For three years, a group of Muslims and Catholics in the Midwest has been making an annual retreat and discussing the meaning of an expression held in common, "the Word of God." Convening with joint sponsorship by the Islamic Society of North America and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and hosted by Catholic and Muslim leaders in Indianapolis, the group meets for 24 hours to discuss various aspects of Christian and Islamic understandings of "the Word of God," to exchange information on relations, to pray, and to share some informal conversation. Participants have come from Louisville, St. Louis, Chicago, Cleveland, Toledo, Lafayette, and Detroit to Fatima Retreat House in Indianapolis each fall since 1996 and will gather again November 10-11, 1999, at the headquarters of the Islamic Society of North America just outside this Indiana city. Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, ISNA Secretary-General, and Bishop Kevin M. Britt, Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit, are currently co-chairing these annual meetings.
After an initial exploratory meeting in 1996, the group settled down to explore how the expression "the Word of God" is used in each of their traditions. In 1997, they read and discussed some articles on the topic. They also listened to general presentations by Dr. Irfan Ahmad Khan of Chicago, Imam A. M. Khattab of Toledo, the Rev. Elias Mallon, SA, Director of the Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute in New York, and the Rev. Thomas Michel, S.J., from Rome and Director for Interreligious Relations for the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). The dialogue group studied together the levels of meaning of this expression as found in Scripture and in their principal teachings and discerned some differences in emphasis--Christians ultimately refer to Jesus as the Word of God and Muslims to the Qur'an which conveys the words of God. For Muslims the Qur'an, which can be described as "Revealed Guidance in Divine Words delivered by the messengers of God" is ultimately a message for living faithfully according to the will of God. For Christians, the message of revelation is ultimately God's own self revealed through the person of Jesus who is encountered in the written word, the preached word, and in the faithful life and witness of the community formed in his name.
When the Midwest Region Islamic-Catholic Dialogue met November 4-5, 1998, the members were ready to study how each of the traditions experience the "Word of God." Imams Farooq Aboelzahab and A. M. Khattab of Toledo explained how the Qur'an is recited and chanted. Sr. Mary Margaret Funk, O.S.B., of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, Indiana, summarized how the Scriptures can be prayed through the discipline of "lectio divina." Imam Fawaz Damra of Cleveland and Fr. Elias Mallon, S.A., gave exegetical presentations on Islamic formal prayers and prayers in the Qur'an, especially the "Fatiha" or the opening sura, and on prayer in the New Testament, especially the "Lord's Prayer," respectively. Dr. Irfan Ahmad Khan offered some reflections on how through prayer and other means the "Word of God" is incorporated into the lives of Muslims.
During these meetings, time is set aside for Muslims to offer their formal prayers in a separate room specially prepared for them and for the Christians to gather for Eucharist and prayer in the chapel. Members may attend one another's prayers, and prayers are offered before discussions and meals.
Dr. John Borelli, who staffs interreligious relations for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Dr. Khan are charged with the task of preparing a draft of what the group has covered in its first meetings to bring to the group at its November 1999 meeting. The members of the dialogue have also asked Imam Damra to speak on "themes in the Qur'an" and Fr. Leo Lefebure, a theologian on the faculty of the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois, to speak on "themes in the New Testament." The dialogue has also invited Imam Hassan Qazwini of Detroit to offer a presentation from the perspective of the Shi'ite tradition in Islam on the topics covered thus far in the dialogue. The group will hold its 1999 meeting at the Islamic Society of North America.
Muslim participants include the following: Dr. Shahid Athar and Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, both of Indianapolis, Dr. Ghouse A. Shareef of Louisville, Imam Muhammad Nur Abdullah of St. Louis, Imam Fawaz Damra of Cleveland, Imam Farooq Aboelzahab of Toledo, Dr. Ghulam Hader Aasi of Chicago, Dr. Kasem K. Kasem of Kokomo, Indiana, Mr. Mustafa Acar of West Lafayette, Imam A. M. Khattab, now residing in Ontario, Dr. Irfan Ahmad Khan of Chicago, and Imam Michael Saahir and Imam Muhammad Siddeeq, also of Indianapolis. Catholic participants include: Bishop Kevin M. Britt of Detroit, Fr. Thomas Murphy of Indianapolis, Fr. Jude Weisenbeck of Louisville, Fr. Vincent Heier of St. Louis, Fr. Joseph Hilinksi of Cleveland, Fr. John Budde of Novi, Michigan, Fr. David Bruning of Bascom, Ohio, Sr. Joan Monica McGuire of Chicago, Mr. David Wilson of Kokomo, Indiana, Dr. Thomas Ryba of West Lafayette, Fr. Elias Mallon from the Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute in New York City, Sr. Mary Margaret Funk of Beech Grove, Indiana, and Dr. John Borelli from the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, DC.
For more information contact:
Dr. John Borelli
National Conference of Catholic Bishops
Dr. Sayyid Mohammed Syeed
Islamic Society of North America