Muslim-Christian dialogue in Quad Cities promotes peace

By: By Jennifer Willems

MOLINE — It didn’t happen on the world stage, but over the last two weeks about 100 Muslim and Christian women in the Quad Cities proved that simple, open dialogue can make all the difference in the world when it comes to peace.

“Only with dialogue comes understanding and only with understanding comes respect,” said Talia Alvi, one of the participants in the Fifth Annual Muslim-Christian Women’s Dialogue said after the Sept. 20 session at the Islamic Center of the Quad Cities in Moline. “It starts small.”

“We began this because we wanted to promote peace and respect and understanding and trust and we knew there was suspicion — ‘The head is covered, what are they thinking? What are they doing?’ — and people didn’t talk to them in the grocery stores or in the hospitals,” said Sister Catherine Cleary, OSB, one of the Benedictine Sisters of St. Mary Monastery who helps to plan the evenings, which also included a session on Sept. 27.

“I really believe sitting down and talking to someone about your wedding or your baptism or your funeral, just a lot of fear, suspicion, distrust falls apart and people begin to laugh together,” she told The Catholic Post. “It just turns things around. The extremism is gone.”

This year’s gatherings were designed to foster discussion about religious traditions associated with baptism or the birth of a child, weddings and funerals, as well as holidays and church seasons.

Sister Catherine said the topics arose because nobody was quite sure what to do when someone dies, for example. One Muslim women told her she didn’t know if they should bring food to a Christian home when a loved one dies, or whether they should call or visit.

“She mentioned that there’s a lot of uncertainty about how people celebrate crucial points in their life,” Sister Catherine told the group. “She also said, ‘All we know about your Christmas is Santa Claus and Christmas trees.'”

The speakers were Farah Khan, a physician and mother of three from Bettendorf, Iowa, and Nancy Flaherty, a nurse who currently works as an administrative assistant at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. She was the liturgist at the former St. Joseph’s Church in Rock Island.

Khan explained that the first words a Muslim child hears at birth is the “adhan” or call to prayer: “Declare the greatness and majesty of the king.” This signifies to the child at an early age the importance of a life of prayer and worship.

Another practice is to place a tiny piece of a date or something sweet like honey in the mouth of children.

The third ceremony occurs on the seventh day, when the child’s head is shaved and his weight in silver or the equivalent is given to charity, she said. An animal is sacrificed and the meat distributed among relatives, friends, neighbors and the poor.

On the seventh day, the child is also named and it is advised that it be a good and honorable name, Khan said.

The last ceremony is circumcision for the males.

Anyone who does not enter Islam as a child may do so by pronouncing the “shahaadah,” which includes the declaration that “I bear witness that there is no deity worthy of worship except Allah.”

“The second most important part of life is marriage. By definition it’s the voluntary union of two people and by two people I mean male and female,” Khan said. “That’s the only kind of marriage that is found in Islam.”

She said both parties must consent to the marriage and it cannot take place if either the bride or the groom are not ready for it. In addition, there must be at least two witnesses to the marriage and it must be publicized. It is traditional for the groom to give the bride a gift.

Finally, when a Muslim nears death, he or she is reminded of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Khan said it is recommended that their last words be, if at all possible, the declaration of faith.

After death, the eyes are closed, the body is cleansed and wrapped in clean white sheets, and funeral prayers are said. The burial takes place as soon as possible after death, without a coffin or an elaborate tombstone or marker.

“Rather one should only remember Allah and his mercy and pray for the deceased,” Khan said.

In her turn, Flaherty told her Muslim listeners not just about the sacraments of baptism, matrimony and Christian burial, but about the rich symbols that are used to celebrate these key moments of a Catholic’s faith life. Among them are candles, which symbolize holiness and divine light, and oil, which is scented and blessed before it is used to anoint.

She noted that a couple preparing for marriage is expected to study the covenant they are about to enter into and exchange rings as a symbol of that covenant.

After a short break to allow the Muslim women to pray at sunset, one of five times during the day that Muslims pray, the women reconvened and had to be called out of small group discussions more than once by Sister Catherine as the session came to an end.

“I think you got to the heart of this evening of dialogue,” she said with a smile.

“This is exactly where peace building starts,” said Lisa Zaynab Killinger of Davenport. “So much conflict comes out of misunderstanding and not knowing about each other.”

Interfaith interaction — such as these evenings of prayer and discussion — have helped, she said.

“The upside of that is when something hurts one member of our faith community, we all stand together,” she told The Post.

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