After a moment of silent prayer on Wednesday afternoon, July 27, 2016, I offered the following prayer, as we sat down for a light lunch:
God our Creator, God of compassion,
pour out on us a spirit of truth, understanding and good will,
that we may come to know with all our hearts
what is truly pleasing to You and with one accord,
pursue together all that pleases You.
May our coming to know one another more deeply give You glory
and may the manner of our lives give You honor.
Thus began a meal and conversation with our Bosnian Muslim neighbors who are preparing to dedicate their mosque here in St. Louis, Missouri. We ate with Imam Eldin ef. Susa, the spiritual leader of the Bosnian Muslim community; Alija Dzekic, President of the Board of the St. Louis Islamic Center; and, Akif Cogo, who is the President of St. Louis Bosnians Inc., a local nonprofit, and planned to be married in the new mosque in mid-August.
We discussed the experience of Bosnian immigrants in the United States and here in St. Louis. We shared some of our feeble knowledge of the religion of Islam and asked some clarifying questions. Our Bosnian friends appreciated our welcome, our interest in their welfare, and our curiosity about their religion. At our own parish, Fr. Lydon and I felt the need to preach about welcoming the stranger as our Bosnian neighbors were building a mosque in the neighborhood. The construction site created some tension in the community because Islam is misunderstood. The true religion was hijacked by extremists, and just as secularists in our modern culture misunderstand and stereotype Catholics, so do many Muslims suffer from the same kind of stereotyping.
Muslims do not want us to conclude that their religion is best represented by ISIS or the Taliban. Neither do I want Muslims to conclude that Christianity is best represented by The Army of God, a network of violent Christians that promotes the killing of abortion providers, or the Jim Jones cult or The Phineas Priesthood, who believe in white superiority. These groups are no more representative of Christianity than the Taliban and ISIS are of Islam. Vatican II taught that Islam, Judaism, and Christianity are the three great monotheistic religions in the world, all of which claim Abraham as our father in faith and believe in the one God who reveals Himself in history.
Muslims prize religious freedom, family ties, education and morality in social and personal realms. With the overwhelming power of secularism in our society, those of us who believe in the One God who reveals Himself in history have far more in common than not.
We must work together to protect and cherish religious freedom in the public arena. Our parishioners visited the St. Louis Islamic Center NUR (The Light) Mosque Open House recently, where we received the warm welcome and hospitality of our Bosnian neighbors.
We look forward to continuing our mutually enriching encounter with our Muslim brothers and sisters in the future.
Fr. Paul Rothschild is pastor of St. Dominic Savio parish in St. Louis, Missouri.
Learn how to reach out and encounter your Muslim brothers and sisters in your community using these resources from the USCCB Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. You may also be interested in this video on Catholic-Muslim dialogue and the Generations of Faith video and manual on interreligious, intercultural, intergenerational dialogue.