Panel to focus on religious freedom issues

| June 19, 2019 | 0 Comments

Ali Chamseddine

Theologian William Stevenson believes religious divisions won’t help defend religious freedom in the U.S., where hostility toward religion has been growing.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear Catholics and Christians must make common cause with Muslims in the area of religious freedom and that we all have something at stake here,” said Stevenson, who teaches at the St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul. “We don’t have to agree with one another on the claims of our respective faiths, but all of us have skin in this game.”

Stevenson will join three other panelists to discuss Catholic-Muslim dialogue and religious freedom as part of a Religious Freedom Week event at St. Peter in Mendota.

Kausar Hussain

The Minnesota Catholic Conference will host the 7 p.m. June 26 conversation, which is titled “Religious Freedom and Path to Peace: Catholic and Islamic Perspectives in Dialogue.” It is designed to give a local and international perspective on ways Catholics and Muslims can work together in light of Pope Francis’ Feb. 4 joint declaration for peace with Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo. The declaration called for Christians and Muslims to foster mutual respect and seek the good of all people.

“We think it is important for Catholics to engage our Muslim neighbors in conversation about religious freedom and walk together in discernment about how we can work together to protect the dignity of the human person,” said Jason Adkins, MCC executive director. “It’s especially important in a state with a large Catholic population and a growing Muslim community.”

Odeh Muhawesh

MCC invited to the panel four scholars and leaders from the Catholic and Muslim communities — Stevenson, Islamic Center of Minnesota President Kausar Hussain, University of St. Thomas theology professor Ali Chamseddine and Islamic scholar and businessman Odeh Muhawesh. The lineup will bring different perspectives to the table, Adkins said.

“We have both a Roman Catholic theologian and a Maronite Catholic scholar of Islam who has a Muslim father and a Christian mother,” Adkins said. “We have a Shi’a Muslim scholar and businessman, as well as the female president of the Islamic Society of Minnesota,
a Sunni organization.”

William Stevenson

Hussain said she hopes Muslims and Christians can work together because they have much in common.

“It’s really important for the Islamic Center to be involved in this kind of work, and we felt it would be a great thing to be part of this,” she said.

Stevenson noted that both faiths support marriage, family and the complementarity of the sexes. Secularism has infringed on all three in recent years through public policy, thereby infringing on religious freedom, he said.

“From the Church’s perspective, religious freedom is a matter of protecting the dignity and spiritual aspirations of the human person,” Adkins said. “It is a question of basic rights and the common good.”

Religious Freedom Week began in 2018 as an initiative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty. It developed out of the USCCB’s 14-day Fortnight for Freedom, which began in 2012. Running June 22-29, the week highlights prayer, study and education in protecting religious freedom.

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