If the purpose of our dialogue among religions is to grow in understanding of one another, then there can be no better forum than to enter into an in depth study of the sacred narratives that shape our lives. Last year’s dialogue examined the basic principles by which Muslims and Catholics interpret their scriptures. This year, the group advanced to the study of the narratives of Mary (Maryam) and Jonah (Yunus) in the Bible and in the Qur’an. Presentations examined how Muslims and Catholics live the life of faith in a traditional manner, even in the United States, with emphasis on family and community. There is an enduring preference in both communities for the transmission of beliefs, virtues, values, and practices that emphasize historical continuity. Both communities believe that they are being faithful, at least in essentials, to our religious past. At the same time, we are seeing a variety of patterns in our youth indicating both continuity and change.
Dr. Muzamil Siddiqi clarified the Maryam narratives in Suras 3 and 19, where the mother of Jesus is prepared for her sacred maternal role from the time of her birth. She is the model of piety, virtue, and maternity, but subordinate to Jesus who is a prophet. In her, Allah demonstrates that he can achieve whatever he wills. The “ruh” (spirit) by which Mary became the mother of Jesus is not an aspect of the divine nature, but is rather the specially created soul of the prophet Jesus.
Fr. José Rubio compared the story of Jonah is the Hebrew Scriptures with the Quranic suras 10:98; 21: 87-88; 37:139-148; and 68: 48-50. He introduced some aspects of critical scholarship and archeology to suggest that the narrative is a parable, rather than an historic account. The parable illustrates the need for repentance, both for prophets and for people generally. It also alerts the Jewish people, at the time of their return from exile in Babylon, that God shows mercy and care for all people, and indeed for all creation, thus countering temptations to exclusivism at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah.
Discussion addressed the nature of prophethood, the historicity of scriptural narratives, and the moral meaning of these texts for our communities of faith: lessons in faith, repentance, mercy, and social cohesion. Guided by some comments of Joseph Nunez-Sanchez and Jane O’Connor, we returned to the theme of prayerful reading of scripture as part of Christian and Muslim mysticism and piety.
To move beyond a focus on texts, the second session of the dialogue examined the way scripture informs the life of those who believe. Led by Msgr. Dennis Mikulanis and Maryam Kimquy Kieu, we looked at the cycles of festival and prayer that mark out the days, weeks, season and years of the lives of Catholic and Muslim communities. Thus the dialogue sought to overcome the “disembodied” quality of discussions restricted to variant exegetical traditions. We began to see how the consecration of the cycles of time brings the faith community into the living experience of holiness and faithfulness.
With a view to our responsibilities to our respective communities, we examined how narratives and times of celebration and prayer interact with the ways by which we transmit our faith. Fr. Paul D. Wolkovits recounted the process of Catholic sacramental initiation both for past generations of Catholic immigrants and for parishes today. Imam Yassir Fazaga compared the transmission of Islam in families in his native Eritrea with the programs of his mosque in Orange County, California. Discussion examined the counterpoint between a lively faith experience and the surrounding “secular” culture in which distinctive features of religious observance are muted or invisible. In US society, religious people are confronted with new questions that would never have arisen in more homogeneous societies abroad. Thus we have to rise to the challenge of forming leadership and community members who can respond to new questions and perspectives. It is for this reason that it is fruitful to examine our narratives in the way that they are taught, remembered, prayed, celebrated, and embodied in specific practices in the lives of believers, without however being immobilized by nostalgia. Bishop Sevilla observed that there is a close relationship between faith formation/catechesis and the faith life of the family. Thus, in some dioceses, parish clergy invite the parents to a faith-formation session that takes place at the same time as the children’s religious education class. In view of the importance of preparation for the sacraments in Catholic faith formation, it is of value to recall that sacraments are understood as “mysterion” (Greek): a privileged place for Christ’s saving mystery to operate within history. Sacramental celebrations reveal God and His saving plan in history, in the historical community of the Church. For Catholics, sacraments are a “celebration” of the gathered community. The church “gathers’ for worship when it celebrates the sacraments. The accompanying graces of the Holy Spirit, such as joy, sorrow, repentance, renewal of spirit, etc. cannot be “forced”. Grace is not a forced or “acted out” experience of heightened emotion; it is pure gift, whose meaning unfolds in the course of one’s life as a whole.
In a situation of family fragmentation, there is a need for honesty and truth for healing to take place. Dr. Karim noted that Muslims would do well to retrieve a sense of “family” worship, at least at times in which there is not a required segregation of the sexes. Muslims can learn much from Catholic, Jewish, and other communities about family healing processes.
Muslim: Sadeh Khan, Mustafa al-Qaswini, Karim Abdullah, Maryam Kimquy Kieu, Jerrel Abdul Salaam, Fatima Saleh, Sherrel Johnson, Samina F. Sundas, Shakeel Shad, Muzamil Siddiqi, Yasi Fazaga.
Catholic: Jose Sanchez Nunez, Harry Hood, June O’Connor, Raphael Luevano, Dennis Mikulanis, Jose Rubio, Paul D. Wolkovits, Alexei Smith, Bishop Tod Brown, Bishop Carlos Sevilla, Francis Tiso.
Dates for our next meeting in 2007: May 21-23. The topic will be to work on the Joseph/Yusuf narratives, with attention to questions of values and ethical principles. Location: Mary and Joseph Retreat Center, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA