This past Sunday, I had the pleasure of attending the Nueces Mosque annual interfaith dinner on behalf of ISSS. The topic for this year’s event was sectarianism in major religious faiths, and featured a panel discussion by four local religious leaders representing Protestant Christianity, Roman Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam.
John Elford, senior pastor at the University United Methodist Church on Guadalupe, presented on episodes of religious extremism in Protestant Christianity. He pointed to the long tradition of lynching of African Americans here in the United States, a phenomenon that has often been justified and supported by an idea of identifying with “God’s chosen people.” He concluded his presentation by insisting that education is not enough; rather, combatting racism and religious extremism requires a transformation of the heart and soul. Such a transformation, according to Pastor Elford, would require a critical reexamination of traditions and scriptures.
The spokesperson for Roman Catholicism was Carol Filip, the development associate at the University Catholic Center. Her presentation centered on extremism in Roman Catholicism as an ideological force that enabled “the so-called European Age of Exploration.” She discussed a contemporary movement initiated by some members of the Catholic Church, who call for Pope Francis to apologize publicly for the Catholic Church’s role in the destruction of the indigenous community in the Americas.
Rabbi Neil Blumofe spoke on behalf of the Jewish community. A rabbi at the Congregation Agudas Achim in Austin, Rabbi Blumofe focused his presentation on extremism and violence in Israel, citing incidences such as the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the massacre of dozens of Palestinians at the hands of Baruch Goldstein in 1994. He urged audience members not to write off extremism as a product of irrationality, but rather to understand that we, as human beings, are all capable of violence and brutality. He also mentioned various challenges he finds in his community, the most prominent being how to speak effectively about Israel in a Jewish setting.
The final presenter was Shaykh Mufti Mohamed-Umer Esmail, the imam at the Nueces Mosque (also known as the University Mosque) by the UT campus. Imam Esmail began his presentation by sharing a conversation he recently had with an American woman, who told him she thought all Muslims supported ISIS. He believes the warfare occurring in the Middle East today is not very different from the Protestant-Catholic rivalry that occurred following the Protestant reformation. He also asserted the importance of Muslims specifically, and all religious believers more generally, of obeying the laws of the country in which they live.
All in all, this was an inspiring and thought-provoking discussion. It was wonderful to see the diversity of ages, religious faiths, and nationalities interested in learning more about one another’s beliefs and traditions. This event is usually held annually, so please check back next fall if you are interested in attending.