Volume XIII:2 July - December 2023
A Meeting in East Africa of Benedictine and Muslim Women 
The large number of monasteries in Africa, particularly in East and West Africa, as well as the large and growing number of Muslims in that continent, makes clear the importance of developing respectful and mutually beneficial relationships between African monastics and Muslims. For that reason, meetings to lay the groundwork for establishing African commissions of DIM•MID were held in Kenya and Senegal in early June, 2023.
“Benedictine and Shi‘a Women: Walking together in Faith and Service” was the topic of the meeting  that was held at the Subiaco Retreat Center of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters in Karen (Nairobi), Kenya, June 6-9. The meeting brought together eleven Benedictine sisters from Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia, and eleven Shi‘a women from Kenya, Tanzania, England, Canada, and the United States. Also taking part in the meeting were Dr. Mohammad Ali Shomali, the founding Director of the International Institute for Islamic Studies in Qum, Iran, Dr. Sayyid Mohaddes, Vice President of the same Institute, and William Skudlarek, Secretary General of DIM•MID.
This meeting for Benedictine and Shi‘a women was designed to offer East African Benedictine sisters the information and encouragement needed to build informed, positive, and constructive relationships with their Muslim neighbors. A meeting for the same purpose, but involving Benedictine monks as well as sisters, was to have taken place in Tanzania the week following the meeting in Kenya but had to be postponed. A similar meeting—but without the participation of Muslims—took place in Senegal for monks and nuns from Senegal, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, and Togo. A report (in French) on this meeting  appears in this issue of Dilatato Corde.
During the four-day meeting at the Subiaco Center, there were presentations on
  •        the origin, purpose, and activities of DIM•MID;
  •        the fruits of DIM•MID’s on-going dialogue with Shi‘a Muslims;
  •        the commonalities that exist between Islam and Catholicism;
  •        the experiences in dialogue that some participants have already had;
  •        the importance of dialogue between monastic and Muslim women;
  •        Muslim women mystics;
  •        the need for a paradigm shift in our perceptions of one another.
Dr. Shomali’s presentation on the commonalities we need to be aware of when we engage in Monastic-Muslim dialogue was recorded and can be found here. A transcript of his presentation is available here.
Each session of the meeting began with a segment of a video in which Christian Salenson, Director of the Science and Theology Institute for Religion in Marseille (ISTR), presents the life and theology of the Trappist monk, Christian de Chergé, the pre-eminent pioneer of Monastic-Muslim dialogue. De Chergé and six of his fellow monks from the Abbey of Our Lady of Atlas in Tibhirine, Algeria, were kidnapped in 1996 and are believed to have been killed by Muslim extremists during a civil war that also took the lives of thousands of Muslims.  The Trappists, along with twelve other Martyrs of Algeria, were beatified on December 9, 2018.
The morning of the final day of the meeting was spent at Tangaza University where Dr. Shomali gave a lecture on “The Unity of God and Unity in God” to the students who were completing an annual summer course on Christian-Muslim relations.
The participants in the meeting were especially grateful for the time they were able to spend speaking with one another about their faith and religious practice, as indicated by the following comments:
This meeting was absolutely a safe space to discuss our faith and our human relations with one another under the banner of God-centeredness. I felt like I was a born again Muslimah, experiencing a new dimension that sparkled within me and manifested. It was indeed a transformational journey seeking God’s light in others.
Despite our differences we were able to be together, enjoy each other’s company, and share the love of God. I was reminded of the passage in Isaiah (11:6-9) that speaks of all the animals dwelling together without harming one another.
Now I see God in everyone regardless of their religion.
One of the Benedictine sisters wrote more at length about her experience of Monastic-Muslim dialogue in this, her first encounter with Muslims. Her essay can be found here.
Thanks to the suggestion of Sister Inviolata Mikhaabi, Director of communication for the Missionary Benedictine Sisters in Kenya, a twenty-minute video on the conference was made. Better than any written report ever could, the documentary she produced testifies to the enthusiasm of those who participated in this meeting and the transforming effect it had on them.
Recognition and thanks are due to Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, and to the North American Commission of DIM•MID that provided generous financial support for this meeting as well as the one that took place in Senegal.
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