Friar Jack Muses About Better Understanding Between Muslims
As a Franciscan and a Christian, I feel uneasy about the violent
conflictin Afghanistan. It is clear that the kind of terrorism
that traumatized our nation in September, killing several thousand
innocent people, must beresisted and stopped as effectively
as possible. Indeed, every nation must protect its citizens
and guests from such murderous attacks. And it's hard to see
how the terrorists can be stopped and brought to justice without
physical conflict and confrontation, but are we doing everything
right in Afghanistan?
I feel highly concerned about the frequent reports (and, yes,
we need to be aware of the propaganda factor) of innocent civilians
being killed or made homeless and forced into harsh refugee
situations. Some accidental deaths of civilians and severe dislocations
seem sadly unavoidable in warfare, but is our nation doing everything
it reasonably can to value and protect such lives? I am similarly
concerned about what is happening to Christian-Muslim relationsand
the level of respect and understanding that all people of good-will
want to see between these two world religions. It seems rather
clear that Muslims around the world who seek to live out the
true spirit of Islam abhor the terrorist attacks of September
11, as well as the lame attempts of extremists to link such
incredibly cruel behavior to the will of God.
Our nation is sincere, I believe, in saying that our war is
not against Islam but terrorism. Yet, how does it look to many
Muslims around the world when they see the incessant and violent
pounding of a Muslim land (Afghanistan) with our massive air
attacks. And what do Muslims think when they hear repeated reports
of civilian casualties of Muslims and the worsening plight of
Muslim refugees. For example, many fear that thousands and thousands
of refugee children may starve or die in the freezing cold as
winter sets in.
It's imperative that we find ways to show concern for the precious
lives of innocent civilians and children. Otherwise, our insistence
that we are fighting terrorism in Afghanistan and not Islam
will become harder and harder to believe. In this country, too,
there are instances of brothers and sisters being harassed,
threatened or assaulted by bigoted individuals because they
are Muslimor simply because they are Arab or Middle Eastern
in appearance. This can only add to the impression in Muslim
circles that Islam itself is under attack. We need to work harder
to bring our actions into greater harmony with our words.
At this point, we look to an incident in the life of St. Francis
that can serve as a model for solving conflicts in a nonviolent
way and for improving understanding between Christians and Muslims.
Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), who lived during the time of
the Crusades, had come to distrust violence and war. In the
year 1219 he sought a non-violent way to solve the conflict
between Christians and Muslims. Francis journeyed to Damietta,
Egypt, near the mouth of the Nile, determined to have a meeting
with the Sultan of Egypt, even as Christian crusaders were engaged
in bloody conflict with the Muslim forces nearby.
Francis succeeded in getting an audience with Sultan Malek-el-Kamel.
Though Francis tried to persuade the Sultan of the good news
of Jesus' saving love for all, the Sultan was not drawn away
from his own faith and convictions. Yet, he saw Francis' enthusiasm
and courage and listened to him courteously and with admiration.
He saw to it, moreover, that Francis was given safe passage
back to the Christian camp. In our day, we need to follow the
example of St. Francis and the sultan and reach out in respectful
dialogue with our brothers and sisters of different religions
and cultures. I'll tell you about one recent example of this
in the conclusion to my musings, below.
TERRORISM AND WAR: A CATHOLIC RESPONSE
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FORGIVE AND FORGET MARRIAGE
Raking up every old grievance in a marriage just reopens old
wounds. Marriages that survive break this habit, says Carol
Luebering, in her new book, Called
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copy today so you can learn "what God has already written
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QUESTION OF THE MONTH
"Most often I turn to the Bible for (choose one): 1) an
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of hope amidst life's struggles or 4) a better understanding
of Jesus' teachings. Stop by and cast your vote online:
WOMAN, YOU ARE FREE
Subtitled "A Spirituality for Women in Luke" this
new book by Susan Yanos presents Jesus as "liberator"
from the Book of Luke. Susan Yanos explores what liberation
means for womenpersonally, socially, spirituallynot
as an ideological feminist but as a woman trying to make sense
of her life. Scripture readings, questions for reflection and
discussion along with suggestions for further reading make this
perfect for upcoming Advent group discussions:
You Are Free: A Spirituality for Women in Luke
UNCLOG YOUR GOD-SHAPED HOLE
Advent is our time to unclog our "God-shaped hole,"
to clear out all the litter. What obstructions are blocking
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temporary parking place until Christmas, or a permanent dwelling?
Read more and then order more for family Advent reflection:
Discover practical ways for you and your family to give thanks
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faith. The Scriptures are filled with passages urging us to
give thanks for the gifts God has bestowed upon us-"Give
thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever":
CATHOLIC SHOPPING ON THE WEB
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"ASK A FRANCISCAN"
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As always, please continue to submit your questions about the Catholic faith to "Ask a Franciscan."
FRIAR JACK'S CHOSEN SITE:
"Understanding Islam" from beliefnet.com is a marvelous
new section devoted to not just understanding Islam but also
the personal stories (and fears) of this faith community. Take
a quiz that tests your knowledge of Islam and submit your questions
to online experts: http://www.beliefnet.com/index/index_40118.html
CONCLUSION OF FRIAR JACK'S MUSINGS
St. Francis himself had reached out to a Muslim sultan in Egypt,
as I described above. A few weeks ago, a similar reaching out
took place closer to home when Franciscan Friar Fred Link, O.F.M.,
the provincial of the Franciscan friars of Cincinnati, extended
a gesture of friendship and peace to the Islamic Center of Greater
Cincinnati. It was October 12 (a Friday, the Muslim day of prayer).
In the name of his Franciscan brothers, Father Fred sent a large
floral display to the Center's mosque with the note: "As
St. Francis of Assisi and Sultan Melek-el-Kamel blessed each
other with greetings of peace in 1219, the Franciscan Friars
of St. John the Baptist Province, Cincinnati, Ohio, extend best
wishes of peace to our Muslim brothers and sisters in the Greater
The following week, Father Fred received a thank-you note from
Sister Karen Dabdoub, administrator of the Center: "May
God bless you for your kindness and generosity. The beautiful
flowers you sent have brightened our worship space all week.
Please extend our thanks to all in your order."
When I contacted Sister Dabdoub by phone at the Islamic Center
and identified myself as a Cincinnati Franciscan, she was very
friendly and spoke enthusiastically about the large floral arrangement
they had received. The display, she added, had been placed in
the lobby of the mosque where worshippers could see it on their
way to prayer. Although she admitted that the Center had received
several unkind and threatening phone calls immediately after
the September 11 attacks, she said that by and large they received
much support from the Greater Cincinnati community. She estimated
that for every negative or biased comment received at the Center,
there were 25 responses of support.
What did the Islamic Center most desire from the Christian community?
"An increase of communication and understanding between
our two communities," Sister Dabdoub replied. She said
she also wished Christians and Muslims could work together on
issues like family values, anti-abortion efforts and human rightsand
to pray for each other. It was her wish that we "not only
live together in peace, but work together for the good of our
city and nation."
I'm not sure of the best strategy for solving the huge problem
of terrorism. But I see more hope in improving communications
and in turning to actions of peace, friendship and social improvement
than in increasing our reliance on bombs.
As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions via e-mail:
Jack Wintz, O.F.M.
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