The Friday Focus

Tomorrow, 24th June, marks the end of Ramadan with the Eid al-fitr feast taking place at sunset. In recent times, the exploits of a minority of Islamic fundamentalists has led to greater focus on the Muslim community as a whole. Sr. Kathleen McGarvey, OLA Provincial Leader, was involved in dialogue with Muslims during her time in Kaduna, Nigeria during which time she founded the Women's Interfaith Council (WIC). Now in Ireland, Sr. Kathleen is currently involved with a number of interfaith groups across the island. Here Sr. Kathleen explains why dialogue with Muslims is more important now than ever.

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About a sixth of the world’s population today, that is about one billion people, are Muslims. Not all Muslims are the same just as not all Christians are the same; Muslims come from many different nationalities, understand Islam differently and practice Islam differently.  Most Muslims are very good peace-loving people going about their daily lives, with their joys and sorrows, trying to fend for their families, build communities and obey God. Today there are about 70,000 Muslims in Ireland from many nationalities, including Irish born.

Like us, Muslims believe there is only one God, who is merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth; like Christians they believe God has spoken to us through the prophets and they try to obey God’s Will on earth. Muslims do not acknowledge Jesus as God, but they revere Him as a prophet. They also honour Mary, and they even call on her with devotion. They value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting. So, the Church asks all of us to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to promote together for the benefit of all people justice, peace and freedom.

What makes dialogue with Muslims difficult?

There are many reasons why dialogue with Muslims can be difficult today. Among these reasons are ignorance, fear, prejudices, and hurts from the past. The media today influences how we see immigrants, especially Muslims, as a danger.  We have all heard so much, too much, anti-Islam, anti-Muslim rhetoric in recent times from political leaders in various parts of the world, especially in US and Europe. Unfortunately we also see a lot of public support for this kind of rhetoric. This kind of speech does no good and in fact fuels Islamic radicalization as well as unjust discrimination and leads to more violence.S (1).png

A great injustice we do to Muslims is to see negative and aggressive voices, (such as ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and so on) which are given great media attention, as representing the true face of their religion. Of course this is neither true nor just.

Another obstacle to dialogue with Muslims is that we say that we will only show openness to Muslims if the same is shown towards Christians in Muslim-majority countries. We will only allow mosques and Islamic centres here if the same is allowed in Saudi Arabia. We will not allow Muslim dress here unless Christian religious symbols are freely allowed in Muslim countries. Thus, we often set reciprocity as the condition for dialogue. We will do if you do; if we do you must do. But, reciprocity is not a Christian virtue: gratuity is. Jesus tells us that we must give without counting the cost.

As a side note, I have often heard and seen the expression ‘Dialogue with Islam’. However, it is people who dialogue not religion; we don’t dialogue with Islam, but we dialogue with the people who follow the religion of Islam and they are called Muslims.

My work in Nigeria

I lived and worked in Kaduna in Northern Nigeria for nine years. We hear a lot on the news about Nigeria: usually bad news!  There is of course a lot of good news I could tell about that beautiful country which people don’t often hear. It’s a country with a population of about 165 million with Christianity and Islam being the major religions. In their daily lives, most Nigerian Muslims and Christians live together in peace most of the time, many are friends, some are intermarried, most work, study and play together on a daily basis, sharing life as human beings in a multi-religious society must do. 

However, there is a deep underlying distrust between Christians and Muslims which can erupt into violence very easily and this tension has cost the country tens of thousands of innocent lives.   In the last few years, the growing presence and violent terrorist tactics of a radical militant group called Boko Haram, which claims to be Muslim, brought another whole dimension of insecurity and distrust into the region. Right now, in fact, all of Nigeria is suffering greatly from both corruption and bad governance but Kaduna is suffering also a series of very violent sporadic attacks supposedly by Fulani herdsmen on villages in the southern part of the state.

The reasons for the violence are many, of course. However, poverty is the major cause and behind the poverty there is injustice and corruption.  As is the case the world over, women and children are always hardest hit by violent crises. During my years in Northern Nigeria I was very involved in interfaith relations and in peace building, trying to build trust and positive relations between Muslims and Christians. I worked in dialogue at many levels, in the Church, with Government bodies, with NGOs, with youth, but I worked especially with women.

It was of course very challenging to be involved in dialogue when few people believe in it.  Most of the Christians even in my own religious community and in my parish simply could not bring themselves to trust Muslims or to believe dialogue was possible or could be fruitful. So much money and effort has been put into dialogue and peacebuilding but violence continues and people are therefore sceptical about it. However, my belief is that if we can’t live together on earth we will certainly not live together in heaven; hence the only way to a better tomorrow is to learn to understand one another, and join hands to build together a better world.

 What can I do?

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Sr. Kathleen (right) attending a Three Faiths Forum event in Cork during April 2017.

 

Of the seventy thousand Muslims in Ireland today, many have immigrated here from different parts of the world, and some are Irish who have become Muslims for one reason or the other. Quite a few efforts are being made to help Muslims integrate into Irish society and also to help us understand one another and live together in peace. We should be all involved in this in whatever way we can.

Nowadays in our schools, hospitals, shops, universities and all public spaces in Ireland we meet Muslims and people of other faiths every day. This is of course a very important form of dialogue as it is at that local level that we form opinions about people and label people, develop friendships or hurts, form prejudices or stereotypes and so on.

There are many great initiatives across the country which are helping to promote dialogue. I myself am a member of the Three Faiths Forum in Dublin and in Cork and also of the Sisters of Faith for Peace based in Dublin. I’ve been at events held in the Islamic cultural centre in Clonskeagh and in the Mosque in Milltown and in Blanchardstown. I know of the Dublin City Interfaith Forum. The Lantern Centre, also in the Capital, has done a lot to welcome people of all faiths and to help people grow in their understanding of the diverse faiths, including Christianity and Islam.

Important questions for us to consider, as individuals, are: Do Irish Muslims feel ostracized from their family and community? Do Muslims, of whatever origin, suffer torment of one kind or another as they walk our streets in Muslim dress? Do they feel the brunt of prejudices? Is there anything we can do to help them feel more included, more accepted? Is there any way we could help one another overcome our mutual prejudices and fears? Could we as a missionary parish invite our Muslim neighbours to share a family day, a moment of prayer for peace, a discussion day?

 

Sr Kathleen McGarvey was brought up in Falcarragh, Co. Donegal. She joined the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles in 1989 and since then have worked in Argentina, Italy and Nigeria. Presently Sr Kathleen is the Provincial Leader of the OLA Congregation in Ireland.


Links

    • Click here to visit the Interreligious Dialogue section of our website.
    • Click here to read some of Sr. Kathleen's other publications.
    • Click here for more on the Three Faiths Forum.
    • Click here  to visit the Twitter account of Dublin Interfaith Forum.
    • Click here to visit the Friday Focus archive and read previous articles from the series.