Interfaith conversation promotes dialogue between Catholic, Muslim leaders
Andrew Cameron | Thursday, November 21, 2019
On Wednesday evening, two religious leaders spoke in Nanovic Hall to discuss the need for interfaith dialogue in modern times, especially between Muslims and Catholics. The Keough School of Global Affairs hosted the event, an interfaith conversation between Daoud Casewit, president of American Islamic College, and Cardinal Blase Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago. The conversation, entitled “Commemorating the Sultan and the Saint: A Christian-Muslim Dialogue,” celebrated the 800th anniversary of St. Francis of Assisi crossing battle lines during the Fifth Crusade to meet peacefully with Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil of Egypt.
University President Fr. John Jenkins introduced the speakers and explained the importance of the event.
“Tonight’s event allows us to fulfill our mission to be a place of dialogue and a Catholic institution where all sincerely-held religious beliefs are respected, and a place where we seek ways to develop peace and deepen understanding,” he said.
Scott Appleby, dean of the Keough School, delivered a second introduction. Though differing in beliefs and traditions, he said, Islam and other world religions share an emphasis on human dignity with Catholic social teaching.
“Our mission is to advance integral human development, which is a concept taken from Catholic social teaching …,” he said. “Although that concept comes from Catholic social teaching in that formulation, it has great resonance and affinities with many of the values and principles of Islam and other world religions — even many secular wisdom traditions — in it’s emphasis on human dignity as the center of our efforts to advance human flourishing.”
The event was moderated by Mahan Mirza, an Islamic scholar at the Keough School and executive director of the Rafat and Zoreen Ansari Institute for Global Engagement with Religion. Mirza began the conversation by allowing each guest to deliver opening remarks, starting with Cardinal Cupich.
“We live in an era where the idea of a clash of civilizations is shaping the understanding of international relations permitted, particularly in terms of the power between Islam and the West in our time,” Cupich said. “The event we are remembering challenges that description with a message of hope. … While I do realize that there are significant areas that our scriptures do not agree on, we both are anchored, and anchor our lives in devotion to God through the daily practice of prayer and religion,” he said. “In doing so, we can bear witness to the world of the core values of our traditions with God as the center of our lives.”
Daoud Casewit then delivered his opening remarks. He reflected on the meeting of St. Francis with Sultan Al-Kamil, and said that openness to such dialogue is supported by Islamic scripture.
“While such an appreciation of the religious ‘other’ has generally been the exception rather than the rule, with the world of today so prone to exclusivism and bigotry, there is a solid basis for it in the Quran,” he said.
Casewit then performed recitations of two passages from the Quran, followed by English translations. Casewit said that, in his opinion, the Sultan would have recognized St. Francis, though not a Muslim, as “a humble man of God,” as described in one of the passages.
After both guests had made their opening remarks, Mirza launched the conversation by asking both Casewit and Cupich how participants in Catholic-Islamic dialogue should deal with the faiths’ complex history, which, he said, despite the meeting of St. Francis and the Sultan, “in general terms … is one of conflict.”
Cupich said both parties must make the active decision to engage in open dialogue.
“We have to in some way find the internal freedom to make a decision to make our lives count. If what they did 800 years ago is an aberration, then I want more aberrations,” he said.
Casewit said such conversations need to be approached with care to ensure that one does not relativize their faith.
“Every religion encloses both an inclusivistic aspect and an exclusivistic aspect. … There’s a danger when one goes to inclusivism of starting to relativize things,” Casewit said.
Mirza addressed the tension between exclusivity and inclusivity, and asked the guests if accepting interfaith dialogue was possible without one party attempting to convert the other.
“Can we truly get peace by accepting another as permanently remaining as another [religion] or is there somewhere, deep down in every interfaith conversation, the desire to convert?” he asked.
Casewit responded by saying, “It takes a great deal of restraint and heart and patience for the other to listen to someone expound on their own perspectives on truth, theology and so forth. From a certain point of view, it isn’t necessarily good for the listener’s own faith. Quite often I think collaborative social work [between Catholics and Muslims] would be more effective than words. But dialogue still has its place, and I have taken part in a lot of it.”
Cupich said that engagement with others should not just be about trying to convert them, but living authentically.
“We do have a difference between what we do in sharing our faith, and engagement with people in order to increase market share for your community, and that’s not what we’re about,” he said. “What we should be concerned about is living our lives in an authentic way, so that God gives the other person the inspiration to take up the life that inspires them.”