The Lantern Books Blog: A Place for Dialogue
August 20, 2010 12:19pm
The following article by Sr. Mary Margaret Funk
and Dr. Shahid Athar
was just submitted to National Catholic Reporter
. Let's hope they reprint it.
A Place for Dialogue
By Shahid Athar, M.D., and Sr. Mary Margaret Funk
The controversy regarding the site of Cordoba House, the Islamic community center, in Lower Manhattan has brought forth many opinions, snap judgments, and outright prejudice. But it also provides all Americans with a “teachable moment”: an opportunity to engage in dialogue.
For several years, the two of us—a Muslim doctor and a Catholic nun—engaged in respectful interreligious dialogue. Our aim wasn’t to compare our religious traditions to see which one was more authentically American or more tolerant. We didn’t want to share sermons and try to convince the other of whose religion was superior. We weren’t competing to see who was more religious or truer to our faith’s origins.
Our purpose, instead, was to open our hearts to each other and discern—that vital word so essential for genuine knowledge and far-sighted public policy—what it means to be a person of faith. We connected through our practices (Benedictine nuns also pray five times a day; in Lent and Ramadan, we share periods of penitence and thanksgiving). We both had our sacred books, and, of course, oriented our lives continually toward the one God. But most significantly, we discovered that through listening intently to the other we found through our faith our common humanity.
We shouldn’t be scared of interreligious dialogue, or of places and organizations that dedicate themselves to it. When the two of us came together in dialogue, we didn’t deny the sometimes violent and troubled histories of our respective faiths; we acknowledged that voices in both traditions had called upon the worst of human tendencies, and that they still do. But, humbly, in our separate sacred spaces we knelt and submitted to the God of mercy and love; together, we found courage for our duties and more devotion to our ways of life.
We have not merged our faiths: One is a practicing Muslim; the other is a practicing and faithful Catholic. In fact, our dialogue has strengthened our commitment to our respective paths to God, while giving us a valuable and cherished insight into another tradition. This dialogue has also cemented our love for the country of which we are both citizens—precisely because the U.S. makes such dialogue possible, without fear that either a government or a mob will harm us. We know that such freedom was not easily won. We know it is not easily maintained. We know it must be protected with fierce pride and utmost diligence.
Every time the possibility of genuine dialogue is denied, fear and hate gain strength. Divisive voices will play on raw emotions and sincere piety to gain political advantage. We cannot allow this to happen. We must reach out and begin the dialogue, and do so near a site where intolerance and hatred caused the deaths of thousands. As we—one Muslim doctor and one Catholic nun—have found, the possibility for genuine healing and genuine transformation awaits.
Sr. Mary Margaret Funk is a Benedictine nun from Our Lady of Grace Monastery, Beech Grove, Indiana. She is the author of Islam Is. . . .: An Experience of Dialogue and Devotion. Shahid Athar, M.D., is a physician in Indianapolis and past President of the Interfaith Alliance. He is the author of Healing the Wounds of Sept. 11, 2001.