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Religion and Society

The Midwest Muslim-Catholic Dialogue explores the issue of religious freedom

Neil Sloan

The annual meeting of the Midwest Dialogue of Catholics and Muslims took place on last October in north-western Indiana. It was hosted by Calumet College of St. Joseph in the Diocese of Gary and the Northwest Indiana Islamic Center. "In the Public Square: Catholics and Muslims on Religious Freedom" was the topic participants examined.


Fr Thomas Baima, provost of the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary, Illinois, presented a paper titled "The Logic of Why: What the Declaration on Religious Freedom Contributes to the Idea of Religion in the Public Square". Basing his arguments on the Second Vatican Council document Dignitatis Humanae, and the US constitution, Father Baima explained how Catholic doctrine on natural law and revelation put people and their inalienable rights, including freedom of religion, at the centre of things. In the history of the United States every time a conflict between religious practices and civil law unfolded, the principle of accommodation was applied so that "some people may be exempted from generally applicable laws for reasons of conscience," Father Baima said.


Mohamed Elsanousi, director of Community Outreach and Communications of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), analysed accommodation and religious freedom in a paper titled "Comparative Analysis of the American Legal Structure as it Relates to Integration and Religious Accommodation with Islamic Law". In it he examined some recent controversial cases involving the courts and the US Senate over restricting or extending the principle of accommodation for religious minorities.


Other ever-recurring topics in US law were also discussed in Midwest Muslim-Catholic Dialogue such as whether rights are inherent in people or conferred to them by the consent of the governed.


Daniel Lowery, Ph.D. and vice president for Academic Affairs at Calumet College, compared the immigration experience of Catholics and Muslims in the United States in his paper "Can the Immigration of Catholics from Europe Be Instructive for Muslim-Americans?" In it he focused on important sociological factors like demography, work ethic, religious observance, willingness to pass on one's cultural tradition to one's children, degree of assimilation to US social norms. Studying immigration patterns showed that sometimes a religious community's resistance to assimilation can unexpectedly contribute values to the host society for long periods of time.


Sayyid M. Syeed, Ph.D. and ISNA national director addressed a public session on "A Common Word," a recent, broad-based Muslim outreach to eminent Christian leaders on the topic of love of God and neighbour. Mr Syeed urged the audience to use this document to stimulate inter-faith discussions at all levels.


The next meeting of the Midwest Dialogue of Catholics and Muslims is set for 25-27 October, next year, in Milwaukee and will focus on "The Nature of the Human Person". During the open session there will be a lecture on "Faithful Citizenship: Catholic and Muslim Engagement in Civic Life".