Inter-Religious Dialogue Seeks to Build Peace, Understanding

Dialogue group photo

Recent world events and statements from politicians focused on people in Muslim communities and the Islamic faith have created an uneasy stir, raised fear and concern. What it has also done, though, is to bring people, Catholics and Muslims, together. Through dialogue opportunities that educate and profess a stronger bond for these alliances and a desire for more understanding, a sense of hope emerges. 

On Feb. 17, the University of San Diego's Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies, hosted an event, titled, "Deepening Interreligious Dialogue and Community Alliances," in the IPJ Theatre. Keynote addresses were given by Most Reverend Bishop Robert McElroy of the Catholic Diocese of San Diego, and Sayyid Syeed, PhD, national director of the Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances for the Islamic Society of North America. Furthermore, USD School of Peace Studies Associate Professor Ami Carpenter offered remarks and then hosted a discussion with McElroy and Syeed.

"We at the School for Peace Studies have been very concerned about the rise of violent extremism around the world and the rise of radicalization in some of our own communities and the rise of Islamophobia. It's a dangerous combination," said Carpenter. "After (the tragic events in) San Bernardino, we began to say ‘What can we do to be pro-active and strengthen our interfaith, our extremely diverse communities in San Diego so that the next time a crisis happens ... we have some infrastructure in place to prevent that type of polarization?"

Carpenter advocated for communities to be resilient, to show "strength and adaptability in the face of disruption." She said women should have prominent peacebuilding and peacemaking roles because of an ability to frame discussions to broader issues. She also professed that San Diego's diverse population needs to be utilized better as a resource of strength.

"San Diego is diverse, but we're still living in highly segregated neighborhoods. Diversity only works if we harness it."

Common Ground

During their respective talks, Bishop McElroy and Dr. Syeed reflected on the need for common ground and deeper understanding for a brighter future. "This convocation is an effort to move further, more deeply, in a more committed and sustained way," McElroy said. "It's also a moment in San Diego to take a public stand against the anti-Islamic bigotry which is all too prevalent among us."

McElroy offered three challenges to the Catholic community in the United States in response to the anti-Islamic stance, saying, "in both Catholic doctrine and in our history in the U.S., Catholics find a residence with the experience of the Muslim community in the present moment."

The challenges he professed were "to recognize and confront the ugly tide of anti-Islamic bigotry that's arisen in the U.S. since 2001"; to "actively come to know in greater depth the Muslim community in the U.S. and the tenets of Islam"; and third, "the need to forge an effective relationship with the Muslim community in America to witness and to fight for a future in the Middle East which embraces the vital presence and freedom of Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities of faith."

Syeed, who has been actively involved in dialogues to foster understanding among world religions, said the Muslim community in the U.S. is working to align with other faiths to build common values of mutual respect and recognition to "shape a new millennium."

"All faiths," he said, "are striving to promote the divine values and enshrined in our sacred texts and scripture so those who exploit them for reinforcing hate, extremism, violence and instability are identified as the enemies of all faiths."

Understanding is Powerful

To understand the situation helps everyone move forward together and to strive toward a peaceful world.

"Once you understand your neighbor, co-worker and you see the difficulties, dilemmas, joys of life through their eyes and as a Muslim believer, that makes it much more difficult to caricature that person, to put them in a box and make them a threat," McElroy said. "This dialogue is meant to be dispersed by people in all levels of our faith and to come to understand them. It's why the Pope keeps talking about the personal encounter. It means you belong to someone, not just in a discussion and not momentarily, but you belong to someone on a certain level, you walk in their shoes for a mile and then see how it looks."

— Ryan T. Blystone