Can Catholics and Muslims Find Common Ground?
By Dr. A. Khan
Chicago , IL

Professor Scott Appleby delivered a lecture titled "Can Catholics and Muslims find Common Ground?" on March 30, at Elmhurst College. The lecture was delivered as part of the annual Joseph Cardinal Bernardin lecture series at the Elmhurst College, Elmhurst , Illinois.

Professor Scott Appleby is a professor of history and the John M. Regan Jr. Director at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame. He teaches courses in American History and comparative religious movements, and examines the roots of religious violence and the potential of religious peace building. He co-chaired the Chicago Council on Global Affairs' Task Force on Religion and the Making of US Foreign Policy, which released the influential report "Engaging Religious Communities Abroad: A New Imperative for US Foreign Policy." He also directs Contending Modernities, a major multi-year projects to examine the interaction among Catholic, Muslim, and secular forces in the modern world. He has authored several books, which include "The Ambivalence of the Sacred: Religion, Violence and reconciliation," and has edited "Spokesmen for the Despised: Fundamentalist Leaders of the Middle East."

Professor Appleby started his lecture by talking about contending modernities viz a viz can Catholics and Muslims find common ground to deal with the challenges and issues of the modern world. He first listed the obstacles to finding common ground to Catholics and Muslims, and then covered common foundation of agreement about social, moral, and divine laws. 

For the United States, he observed that the 9/11 incident and violence committed in the name of Islam are the major obstacles. Referring to fundamentalism, he observed that the term "fundamentalist" was first used by Christians in 1910, and in the context of Islam it was first used in 1978 during the Iranian Revolution. He also observed that there are 50-60 millions Catholics in the Untied States in contrast to 3-6 million Muslims.

Professor Appleby observed that other major obstacles in finding common ground between Catholics and Muslim are Ignorance, propaganda and politicized scholarship.  He said that American society at large is ignorant about Islam. And that society is continuously subjected to political propaganda and politicized scholarship. He said that Israelis have excelled in scholarship, and have done the most comprehensive study on Islam.

He said that another big obstacle is s ecularism. He mentioned television comedian Bill Maher's anti-religious statements. He said that there is a rising tide of secularism. He remarked, "People of faith ought to be concerned by the rise of hostile secularism in this country." He mentioned Peter King's investigation of Muslims. He observed that it is ironic that Peter King graduated from the University of Notre Dame and has  supported IRA in the past, and now he is promoting fear mongering about Islam. He said that we have to address license versus liberty, and moral respect versus rights issues.

Professor Appleby said that history is another obstacle. Crusades are etched in the memory and they are kept alive as if they happened yesterday. In this regard he also mentioned the conflict of Palestine, massacre of Muslims by Serbians in Bosnia, curbing of democratic movement in Algeria, wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Regarding Libya, he said that it is the first time that the West has gone in a Muslim country on the request of Muslims. He further observed that cultural and theological supremacies, claimed by both groups, are also an obstacle to finding the common ground.

Discussing the issue of finding common ground at global level, Professor Appleby observed that in today's modern world, Catholics and Muslims face similar challenges when they deal with gender, equality and human rights issues. He observed, "Both Catholics and Muslim traditions struggle with the notion of human rights."  He said that in the context of Muslim-Christian relations today, Muslims feel the stains of church, crusades, Palestine, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya.

He said that despite many differences, both Catholics and Muslims agree on fundamental issues when dealing with the sovereignty of God, human destiny and God's will, and sense of history. Both groups believe that happiness comes from following the laws of God. He observed that both groups share a sense of nature and moral law, and common social and divine and moral laws; for Catholics and Muslims the family is the most important thing, they believe that the family is the most essential social unit, and not the individual. Professor Appleby observed that there is a common foundation for social ethics because there is an intrinsic connection between divine law and all other individual, state, moral law and jurisprudence.

In his concluding remarks, he posed the question, "Can American citizenship and patriotism be a source of common ground for Catholics and Muslims?” Then he answered, "Yes."  The lecture was followed by a Q & A session. A large number of students and community members attended the lecture. The next talk, in the religious series, titled " Islamophobia: An Inquiry," will be held on April 25, at Elmhurst College, Elmhurst, Illinois.



Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.