What about our Muslim students? This is a question Sr. Annelle Fitzpatrick CSJ, raises in the context of a forthcoming article in Vincentian Heritage.
In “HOSPITALITY ON A VINCENTIAN CAMPUS: WELCOMING THE STRANGER OUTSIDE OUR TENT” she explores practical approaches to promoting dialog with students of other religious faiths. This excerpt addresses the possibilities for welcoming Muslim students.
However, in our enthusiasm for propagating the Vincentian value of “hospitality”, particularly as it relates to the poor, I believe that we might be losing sight of a unique opportunity to expand our sense of “hospitality” (enthusiastic welcoming of the stranger) to our non-Christian students and parents who might be totally unfamiliar with the Catholic culture.
What about our Muslim students? How do we talk about the life and works of Vincent as a tool for evangelization? One possible venue would be to sponsor an imaginary discussion between “Vincent” and “Muhammad” focusing on the issue of slavery.
Our Catholic students might be surprised to learn that Muhammad, like Vincent, was obsessed with the deplorable conditions of the slave. The Holy Quran in Sura 90 (Sura means Chapter), declares that the act of freeing a slave is the most meritorious action that a Muslim could perform! Muhammad, like Vincent, was passionate about alleviating the suffering of slaves. On Vincentian campuses, we so often speak of Vincent going to care for the galley slaves and his kissing the chains that bound these slaves night and day.
What about sponsoring an “imaginary dialogue” where a Catholic student could quote Vincent’s words on slavery (i.e. Vincent’s challenge to Monsieur deGondi to see the deplorable conditions that these men lived in: “These are your people and you will have to answer for them before God!” In turn, a Muslim student could speak Muhammad’s words exhorting his followers to ransom slaves. One hadith (stories about Muhammad), quotes the Prophet of Allah as saying, “Give food to the hungry, visit the sick and set free the one in captivity by paying his ransom” (Bukhari) On numerous occasions, Muhammad stated that to free a slave will earn the believer forgiveness of sins! Such an interfaith dialogue could draw the parallel between Vincent’s and Muhammad’s passion towards alleviating suffering of slaves and perhaps bring students together to address ways to alleviate modern day slavery (e.g. human trafficking or the plight of refugees).
On Catholic campuses we celebrate both the Feast of the Assumption and Ascension Thursday. Again-– another opportunity to build bridges by seeing similarities in the mysteries that each tradition embraces?? Muslims also believe that Jesus was taken up, in bodily form, into heaven by Allah and is now being held in a “state of occultation.”
The Quran tells us that Jesus will one day return and “defeat the anti-Christ.” As a matter of fact, there is a empty tomb in Mecca, right next to Muhammad’s tomb, that is reserved for Jesus after his return! It is a pilgrimage site for Muslims when making the Hajj (mandatory trip to Mecca). In addition, Muslims have tremendous respect for the Blessed Mother. Muslims believe, not only in the virgin birth of Jesus, but they also believe that Mary was born without sin! In fact, Mary, the Mother of “ISA” (Jesus) has an entire Chapter (Chapter 19) dedicated to her in the Quran.
If we could get our students talking about such mysteries– what an unbelievable opportunity to discuss more deeply the mystery of Jesus-– the “Prophet” (Muslims) and the “Son of God” (Catholics). Whatever side of the fence you are on–- you have got to admit that both Jesus and Mary are profound and major models for both our Catholic and Muslim students.
Serious discussion of these “shared mysteries” could help foster greater bonds of friendships among Muslims, Catholics and Protestants. Throughout the Muslim world, different countries boast that they (Pakistan, Turkey, Lebanon) have the “tomb of the virgin” (Mary) within their borders. This is an issue that our Protestant students could also weigh in on-– as Protestants do not ascribe to the Doctrine of the Assumption of Mary. Either way-– it would get our students talking about “God’s mysteries” in the lives of exceptionally holy men and women.
Likewise, within the walls of Abraham’s tent, we could invite students to discuss Matthew 25 in light of their own religious tradition. Matthew 25 is perhaps the most quoted of all the Christian scriptures, reminding us all that on the Day of Judgment, Christ will separate his followers into sheep and goats, the Lord will ask the Christian, “I was hungry – did you give me to eat?” “I was thirsty – did you give me to drink?” Compare that passage with the following Islamic Qudsi (a Divine Hadith received in a dream), where the Holy Prophet said,
“On the day of Judgment, Allah will ask, Son of Adam, I asked you for food and you did not feed me. The soul will ask: Lord, how could I feed you – You are the lord of all worlds. Allah will respond: Did you know that my servant asked you for food and you did not feed him? Did you not realize that if you had fed him you would have found your reward with me? Son of Adam, I asked you for drink and you did not give Me to drink. Did you not realize that if you had given my servant to drink you would have found its reward with me also?”
Again, in this passage, we see the intimate identification that the Divine has with human suffering and that to respond to a stranger in need is a sacred obligation!
Sr. Annelle Fitzpatrick, CSJ, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Sociology, St. John’s University