Nearly 100 people arrived at St. John’s School in Clyde on Jan. 9, ready to learn more about Islam from Deacon Tom Driscoll, former chairman of Rochester’s Muslim-Catholic Alliance, and Dr. Aly Nahas, a founding member of the Islamic Center of Rochester. Their topic was Islam and the relationship between Catholics and Muslims in the Rochester diocese.
The event was part of the Family Education Program of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Clyde and St. Patrick’s Parish in Savannah. Through this program, the parishes invite adults in the community to one faith-formation opportunity each month, while the children of the parish attend their religious-education classes. Deacon Driscoll and Nahas were both invited to speak that evening because of their involvement with Rochester’s Muslim-Catholic Alliance.
Both men were signatories to the Muslim-Catholic “Agreement of Understanding and Mutual Cooperation,” a 2003 document pledging both communities to uphold every human being’s right to freedom of speech, thought, religion and conscience; to challenge all forms of religious and ethnic intolerance and bigotry; to promote a deeper knowledge of and respect for each faith’s history, traditions and sensitivities; to collaborate and develop mutually beneficial services; and to form a committee to oversee the agreement’s implementation.
The agreement is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, noted Deacon Driscoll, who is also pastoral minister at St. John the Evangelist Church in the Rochester suburb of Spencerport. Religious tolerance is especially important in our society because the United States has become the most religiously diverse nation on the earth and in history, he said.
Promotion of tolerance and knowledge of other faiths is not intended to “come about with one universal religion, but rather to understand each other better,” Driscoll said.
In order to help the room full of Catholics gain a better understanding of Islam, Nahas explained the basic principles behind his religion.
“We believe in one God, and we bear witness there is no god but God. That oneness is very important,” Nahas said.
Allah is not an Islamic word referring to a different god, but rather is the Arabic word for “the one God,” Nahas said.
“We worship Allah, the Jews worship Allah, the Christians worship Allah, (but) we call him by a different name. … The God we worship is the same God you all worship,” Nahas said.
Muslims believe in the same prophets Christians do, including Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, Solomon and Moses. They believe Jesus, like Mohammed, was a prophet, and accept both the Christian and Jewish Scriptures. Yet Muslims believe Mohammed was the last of God’s prophets, he said, and also have their own holy book, the Quran.
Muslims also believe in God’s angels, the hereafter and the day of judgment, placing great importance on individual responsibility and accountability, Nahas said. This belief in one God and sense of responsibility and accountability really form the two legs on which Islam stands, he added.
Nahas also demonstrated the way Muslims pray, noting that they do so at five times during the day while facing Mecca, the birthplace of their faith. He explained that Muslims fast from all kinds of evil — not just the physical acts of eating and drinking — during the month of Ramadan. Muslims follow the lunar year, which is shorter than the calendar year, and Ramadan is the ninth month of each lunar year, he added.
Like Christian, he noted, Muslims believe in the virgin birth of Jesus and consider Mary to be holy, although they refer to her as Maryam. One distinction of Islam is that Muslims believe Abraham’s first-born son was named Ishmael. Ishmael was 12 years older than Isaac and was the son Abraham almost sacrificed when God tested him, Nahas said.
Lisa Paddock, who stayed for the program after bringing her three children to their religious-education classes, said she enjoyed learning about the similarities and differences between the two faiths, and was surprised to hear that Muslims consider Mary to be holy.
St. John’s parishioner Bertha Canolesio agreed that the presentation was very informative.
“I think so many of us function in ignorance when it comes to the Muslim culture and their beliefs. (Nahas) opened my eyes to what they basically believe, and this way we can respect” Muslims, Canolesio said.
It’s important for Christians and Muslims to learn of their differences along with their similarities, according to Deacon Greg Kiley, a member of St. John’s and a minister at Five Points Correctional Facility in Romulus. He works daily with both Jewish and Muslim leaders, and said he thinks that people can’t truly get along until they can recognize points of disagreement and learn to remain friends and colleagues anyway.Tags: Interfaith Relations