Volume XIII:2 July - December 2023
My First Meeting with Muslims
I come for a very staunch Catholic family. We had no interaction with individual Muslims, nor did we have much knowledge of the values that Islam holds and teaches. All I had was what I read in the papers and on social media, which told me how bad the religion and its followers were. So, when I was invited to take part in this dialogue, I was anxious. I prayed to God not to let them ask me things about my faith and so on.
When I arrived at the Subiaco Center and met participants from far distant countries, I felt unworthy to be in the company of such great people. I had the impression that all of us were trying to stay in our own safe zone because we felt afraid and were suspicious of one another. But this lasted for only a very short time. Once the meeting got underway and we began discussing how Muslim and Monastic women could work together to bring about a better world where love and unity reigns, we began to sense how much we had in common.
We asked one another what is it that makes us different from each other and what unites us as Muslims and monastics. What are the experiences that can bring us together and help us to grow together as people of God? We were given presentations on what dialogue intends to bring about and how we can prepare ourselves for dialogue. I noticed how much stress was placed on the centrality of our common belief in the oneness of God and how important it is that people who believe in the same God come together in order to explore the ways we put our faith into practice. We do this to be able to appreciate our different beliefs and practices and to understand how they contribute to our own salvation and the betterment of our world.
One might ask why was this dialogue was for Muslim and Monastic women. The reason is that in our society women play such an important role in the work of education, nurturing life, upholding faith, and passing it on to the young. Monastic women live and practice their faith in all that they do, and they live together in communities of prayer and friendship. Muslim women also speak of encountering God in their field of work and of holding work and prayer together in order to encounter God in a very deep and profound way. We also noticed that we as women are often the ones working in small villages where we meet people with all kinds of need. We have been and continue to be instrumental in the growth of many communities and even of countries. We have an important role to play in bringing about peace and unity at any given time in our societies.
Once the ice was broken, we were able to share the way we practice our faith by being prayerfully present at each other’s prayer services and then sharing what this experience meant to us. This was the first time I sat side by side with a Muslim in an environment of prayer and faith sharing. This was a very important experience for me and a great opportunity to learn about and encounter the true spirit of Islam as a religion. I felt something so deep that I wanted to continue experiencing it so that I might grow closer to the God of mercy and love.
I also realized that out of ignorance many people are not aware of the good things that we can do together as the family of God. As religions and as the people of God, we have so many more similarities and commonalities than the differences that divide us. I also learned that our fear of losing our identity makes us become so defensive that we thrive on our differences rather than looking at our commonalities and then coming together in love and in God. In order to be united in this way, we need to take time to listen and learn from those who are different from us and thus develop a non-judgmental attitude towards them. We need to act responsibly in all that we do together, whether as individuals or  as religious communities so that we may be able to understand each other and appreciate what others value in their faith.
I was touched by the fact that we are all children of God and that our deeds of love and mercy reflect the face of God. Unity in God is key for the peace and development of our world. Having learned how many similarities we share as monastics and Muslims, I was filled with enthusiasm to learn more about the religion of Islam. I felt as though we were being handed a new Gospel to preach to the world. Seeing the energy and the love that was exhibited by Dr. M. Shomali, who is so passionate about the unity of God and unity in God, I couldn’t help thinking that his message is like a fire that needs to be kept burning so as to warm people’s hearts, enkindling in them the love and the mercy of God for all. I also think that to do this we need to be very cautious about whom we engage in dialogue and at what level. There are some people who may consider themselves members of a religious tradition but do not take their faith all that seriously. They show little interest in deepening their relationship with God by sharing their experiences of unity and love with people of other religious traditions. So we need to begin locally and move slowly if we are to continue in the same spirit and bring many other people on board.
I end by thanking God who has enabled me to have this revelation of his loving kindness and mercy for us as human beings. I came a closed person; I leave a very free person in spirit. My prejudices have been dispelled and I am filled with admiration for my Muslim brothers and sisters who have enriched and edified me through their sharing, their submission to God, and their knowledge and understanding of what they believe and practice. This meeting gave me an opportunity to widen the scope of my understanding of  Islam as a religion and of its faithful. I also want to thank  Dr. M. Shomali and Fr. William for organizing a meeting in which we could have such a dialogue. May the almighty God bless all our intentions and our future plans so that we may be able to make him worshiped and glorified by all of humanity.
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