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Islam discussion focuses on relations

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On Thursday, April 26, a conference entitled “Perspectives on Islam: A Dialogue of Religion and Culture” was held in the historical Pere Marquette Gallery in Dubourg Hall. Speakers were invited from different backgrounds to discuss Islam. Fr. Michael Barber, S.J., dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, discussed how the conference came to being.

“After numerous consultations with the endowed chairs in the College of Arts and Sciences about what topic to have our conference about, we all decided on the topic being Islam,” he said.

“In over a year of meetings we brainstormed, we voted on who best presented different aspects of Islam and that’s how we came to our three speakers,” Barber said.

The first speaker was Dr. Ingrid Mattson, professor and director of the Duncan Macdonald Center for the study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, Hartford Seminary.

In her discussion, Matteson spoke of the resistance to oppression in the Islamic tradition. She cited many instances when it had occurred, from the beginning of dawn of Islam to more recent times in the middle east.

The second speaker was Dr. Ussama Makdisi, a professor and Arab American Educational Foundation Chair of Arab Studies at Rice University.

Makdisi focused on the relations of American Protestants with Arab Americans and how they failed to convert them at the middle of the 20th century, when Arab immigrants were coming to the United States and instead succesfully resorted to furthering knowledge about Protestantism over the world. During the panel discussion, many questions arose. In response to one of the questions, Dr. Matteson said, “I attend interfaith meetings for learning and furthering my understanding of other faiths.”

“They provide a good representation of faith majorities and minorities and encourage talks where each faith whether a minority or a majority can relate to each other, and [they] break the walls of misconceptions that are perceived regarding the other faith.”

One speaker, David Burrell, C.S.C., professor in Philosophy and Theology at the University of Notre Dame, was not able to attend due to some unforeseen engagements in Kenya, where he is currently teaching.

Instead, Dr. George Renard, professor of the Theology department at Saint Louis University spoke on behalf of Burrell. He read one of Renard’s papers that discussed the Catholic Muslim forum initiated by the Pope. Famous Muslim philosophers’ papers were discussed also, such as AlAzhar’s. The paper discussed overall meanings about different ways of practicing Islam. Comparisons were drawn about the term “eye for an eye.” Mentioned both in the Bible and the Qur’an and how the two faiths, both Abrahamic faiths, come from a common background.

On the topic of whether Interfaith meetings could build peace between Israel and Palestine, Makdisi said, “I don’t think it’s a means of solution itself, but rather they would have to come to a common secular understanding.”

People of many different backgrounds attended the conference, including two undergraduates from a Women’s Studies class, Summer Issa and Louie Hotop. They said they were interested in learning about the role of  women in Islam. The conference was sponsored by the Office of the Dean and the Endowed Chairs in the College of Arts and Sciences.

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