On the same day Pope Benedict XVI met with Muslims in Cologne, Germany, calling for stronger dialogue between Christians and Muslims, a daylong conference titled "A Christian Understanding of Islam" took place at Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center in Sierra Madre.
Sponsored by the Los Angeles Archdiocese's Office of Ecumenical/Interreligious Affairs and Office of Justice and Peace, the Aug. 20 event featured a panel of distinguished Islamic scholars and religious leaders. All stressed the common ancient roots of Islam, Christianity and Judaism as well as current dogmatic and social commonalities.
"I can listen to a priest, a minister and a rabbi visiting my mosque, addressing my congregation without fear that this is an attempt to convert. And I hope you trust us that we're not here to convert you," Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Southern California Council on American-Islamic Relations, told some 70 conference participants. "I'm in the business of dialoguing, knowing the commonalities."
Ayloush stressed that dialogue on the international, national and, especially, local level was urgently needed today with radical extremists pushing for a "clash of civilizations."
"For God's sake, this is the 21st century," he said. "We're not back in the dark ages where some believed the infidels hate you and want to kill you. Today we live in the age of world-wide TV, the Internet. We're not separated anymore. Muslims, Christians live in dozens of countries together. So we have to no longer fear each other."
Ayloush pointed out that Muslims and Christians believe in one God and have a mutual reverence for Jesus and his mother Mary. Both stress moral values. And the two faiths have the largest number of followers throughout the world.
Moreover, both have attracted tremendously diverse flocks, including blacks and whites, Latinos, Asians and Arabs. And the two religions have large immigrant communities, "so we both know how it feels to be mistreated by people who don't like immigrants," he pointed out.
In addition, Catholic Christians and Muslims have suffered recent attacks - Catholics for sexually abusive priests, and Muslims for suicidal terrorists.
"So we do have a lot of commonalities," Ayloush said. (MORE)