Regular Faculty

Interreligious Dialogue: A Proposal for Remembering 9/11

Please join Sister Farina at Newman Hall calnewman.org, Saturday, September 10, 6:00 pm for "Conversations We Never Had After 9/11" pdf

As we come to the tenth anniversary of 9/11, many gather to remember, honor, and pray for the victims of this tragedy and its aftermath. We join in solidarity with their families and communities, resolute in our desire to seek justice, to heal divisions, and to bring peace. Critical to this commitment is our ongoing efforts to promote interreligious dialogue.

Effective dialogue recognizes the need to learn from one another. Ten years ago we reached out to support the loved ones of those killed in these attacks. A number of the gatherings were interreligious prayer services and dialogues. In these efforts, we realized that the victims, and those who came to their aid in those dark hours, were from all faiths. We resisted ostracizing and targeting those of Arabic lineage or the Muslim faith. There was public recognition, as well, that Muslims and Arab-speaking people are loyal and contributing members of American society. These initial gatherings witnessed the need to support and protect the religious freedoms we enjoy as a nation. This was an important first step to healing.

As months progressed, communities, academic and civic centers formalized these efforts. Others renewed their long-standing projects for cross-religious understanding by creating programs that included formal studies about the world's religions and pastoral leadership trainings. Interfaith efforts promoting social justice received new impetus. These outreach organizations focused on meeting the needs of our communities, while seeking innovative ways to work with all religions.

However, as years passed, we forgot the lessons learned. There has been a targeting of Islam and a troubling increase of fear, misrepresentation, and hatred of Muslims, their institutions, and their practices. Connected to these phobias is the inability to recognize that cultures and religions are complex and diverse realities. No one group represents the whole of the faith tradition or culture. Part of the context for these confrontations is also a basic distrust of religion. Rather than viewing religions as a source for shared vision and mutual cooperation, we refuse to give faith a “fair hearing” in the public discourse.

These attitudes are obstacles to fostering the common good and generating right relationships in our society. Recognizing our common humanity and shared values provides a needed foundation for effective civic engagement. If these are the guarantees of the civil liberties and human rights, then expanding the dialogue is essential. There are three ways to expand the dialogue:

1. Involve more people from a wider sector of society in conversation, consensus building, and collaboration.

2. Engage in critical analysis of socio-political dimensions of our common life--from the local to the global.

3. Invest in training for these dialogues so that the quality of the listening leads to conversion of heart.

Expanding the dialogue then helps our gatherings become centers for courageous thinking and just action. I believe, the first step in the process is to realize the need for a "conversion of heart"

In remembering the 9/11 victims of the New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. attacks, Pope Benedict prayed in 2008, that we might turn away from "hearts and minds consumed with hatred… seek God's guidance and light…[and] work tirelessly for a world where true peace and love reign among nations and in the hearts of all."

The conversion that Pope Benedict calls for is something that I personally heard preached in many of our religious communities. Leaders of all faiths recognize the need for holistic healing and transformation. While having distinctive beliefs and practices, we share in the recognition of the sacred dimension of all being. Interreligious dialogue supports our common mandate to uphold this dignity as we address the disturbing realities of increasing violence and discrimination.

Events marking the tenth anniversary of 9/11 can help if we remember, pray, and act as people who come from various faiths and cultures. On Saturday, September 10, 2011, the Center for Islamic Studies at the GTU, Newman Hall-Holy Spirit Parish, Zaytuna College, and the Diocese of Oakland have organized such a gathering. The roundtable discussions will offer an open venue for dialogue about issues that have emerged over these last years. We believe that it is in these "conversations that we never had" about 9/11 that we can discover ways for future cooperation. We invite you to join us in this dialogue and those that will continue throughout the academic year.