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Muslims


ramadanI must admit that I felt a little presumptuous breaking the Ramadan fast when I hadn’t been fasting in the first place.
 
But my wife and I had been invited to attend a catered dinner in a firehouse banquet hall where the local Muslim community was gathering to break their fast.
 
The invitation had come from a member of that community who earlier had accepted my invitation to speak to a parents group at my parish.
 
This is as it should be: Muslims and Christians treating each other not only as fellow human beings, but even as friends.
 
The negative attitude that many people have about Muslims in general results from associating all Muslims with the Islamic terrorists who have attacked the World Trade Center and killed innocent people in suicide bombings and other atrocious acts here and abroad.
 
That attitude also extends to the broad assumption that all Muslim people think alike, whereas the empirical evidence, as well as common sense, suggests otherwise.
 
There are more than 1.6 billion Muslim people in the world, about 80 percent of whom do not live in the Middle East or North Africa.
 
Like the 2.4 billion or so Christians in the world, a group that size will represent every possible shade of religious, philosophical, and political thought.
 
It’s a complex subject, and some very recent data on it is available on the web site of the Pew Research Center in a report titled “Muslims and Islam: Key Findings in the U.S. and Around the World.”
 
Whatever we learn about the world Muslim population as a whole, we are more likely than ever to encounter individual Muslim men and women in our communities, schools, and workplaces, and it is imprudent to jump to conclusions about them.
 
It should be obvious that simply shunning folks simply because they are Muslim is not consistent with the Gospel. Beyond that, those we sometime read about who yank hijabs from Muslim women’s heads or publicly urge Muslims—or people they mistake for Muslims—to “go back where you came from” may be expressing an understandable rage or fear, but they are also aggravating rather than mitigating tensions, and doing so based on inadequate information and understanding.
 
The Catholic Church in the United States is active in movements to counteract such ideas and behavior and increase productive interaction between Christians and Muslims.
 
These movements are not ethereal exercises; they are important steps toward building a better society and a better world.
 
At a recent two-day Christian-Muslim dialogue, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego expressed the urgency of this matter, saying, “The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians. It depends on love of the one God and love of neighbor.”
 
Bishop McElroy, who co-chairs a West Coast Catholic-Muslim dialogue sponsored by the national conference of bishops, emphasized that the parties must acknowledge the substantial differences in their religious doctrines and, at the same time, foster “an overriding sense of friendship.”
 
And, the bishop said, those who participate in such dialogues must relate their discussions to the faith communities they represent.
 
“It does little pastoral good,” he said, “for a national dialogue to focus on theological themes if the pastoral life of our members is not affected.”
 
As Christian and Muslim leaders carry on these discussions on our behalf, we can follow the results of their dialogue with open minds and, meanwhile, treat our Muslim neighbors with the equanimity Jesus would expect of us.
 

In 2017, Ramadan ends in the evening of Saturday, June 24.

 
This post was originally published in The Catholic Spirit, the newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey. Deacon Paolino is managing editor at RENEW International.

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