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Need seen now for bringing Catholic-Muslim dialogue to wider public

13 Mar 2017 – By Paulist Father Thomas Ryan

CHICAGO (CNS) — Regional Catholic-Muslim dialogues over the past 20 years “have been open and honest, appreciating our commonalities and being honest about our differences,” said Muzammil Siddiqi of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California.

“We have to bring it to the wider public in this era of fear and mistrust,” he added.

He made the comments as Catholic and Muslim leaders and scholars met March 7-8 for the National Catholic-Muslim Dialogue at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. The dialogue is co-sponsored by the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The 33 participants took on the complex topic of the names of God that are used in both religions. The dialogue itself was not open to the public, but a public session was held March 8.

During the dialogue, the presenter on the Catholic side, Father Sidney Griffith of The Catholic University of America in Washington noted how the 99 names of God which Muslims draw from their scriptures and honor in praying with beads call Christians to examine their own Scriptures more deeply to see where these names for God find representation in Christian Scriptures as well.

“The beautiful names of Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” noted Father Griffith, “are the primary names of God that appear in our Christian holy Scriptures. And the theological formulas that have evolved over the centuries in church councils represent our efforts to understand these names of God.”

Father Griffith said that talking about God’s names and attributes can be an occasion for Christians to say, “You think we Christians go too far, but we don’t think you Muslims go far enough. However, if our differences cannot find a resolution, they can at least find a better understanding of how we come to what we believe.”

In his response to Father Griffith’s presentation, Irfan Omar, an associate professor of theology at Jesuit-run Marquette University in Milwaukee, reflected that what is of most importance is that all the divine names used by Muslims and Christians honor the one God of all creation, the God of Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Moses and Mary.

Pim Valkenberg, a professor of religion and culture at The Catholic University of America, made the point that, for Christians, talking about the Trinity is a question of who Jesus Christ is. “Jesus influenced the ideas that Christians have about God,” he said. “For Christians, in God there is relationality. For Muslims, there is singleness in God.”

In another presentation, Zeki Saritoprak, a professor and holder of the Beddiuzaman Said Nursi chair in Islamic studies at Jesuit-run John Carroll University in Cleveland, spoke on “An Islamic Theological Approach to the Essence and Attributes of God.”

He described three categories for the divine attributes with examples for each: the essence of God (power, almighty); actual activities of God (mercy, anger); attributes related to God’s beauty and kindness (generosity and compassion).

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