A mix of roughly 20 Knox students and Galesburg residents met in McGillacuddy’s this past Monday to discuss how people might come to understand faiths different than their own.
Led by Father Michael Schaab, the discussion was the first of three in the series “Theology on Tap.” Sponsored by the Catholic Diocese of Peoria, the talks aim to address current topics in Catholicism. This first talk discussed relations between Catholicism and Islam.
“In a tolerant, democratic society, no matter how much we run into bigotry … we have the ability to come together,” Schaab said, and praised the United States as offering an environment ripe for dialogue.
Schaab shared his own experiences with coming to understand other faiths, describing a friendship that had developed between himself, a rabbi and an imam (an Islamic spiritual leader).
“We’d always gather to eat somewhere and then just pick a topic and start talking,” Schaab said. The three organized public discussions of their respective religions and took turns hosting the talks at each of their centers of worship.
Schaab asked the audience to consider why an open dialogue between Christians and Muslims was important in today’s world.
“It’s essential to our well-being and peace,” a Galesburg woman said.
Some participants focused on the consequences that would occur without dialogue.
“As soon as you stop having these dialogues, you stop seeing [others] as people,” junior Rana Tahir said.
Freshman Peter Buiting also noted this problem. He described how his neighbors would respect friends of a different religion but then stereotype the faith as a whole.
Freshman Kathleen Magill saw dialogue as a way to improve understanding of one’s own religion in addition to learning about others.
“Maybe to understand your faith, you have to talk about other faiths,” she said.
A large part of the discussion focused on the misconceptions many people have about other religions. When a Catholic priest from Tanzania inquired about the fact that Islam permits men to take four wives, Tahir, who is Muslim, explained that the practice originally limited the number of women someone could marry, in a time when people of every religion were marrying seven or eight wives.
Although he appreciated the dialogue, Buiting worried whether or not some people would be ready to take the next step in understanding other religions.
“People won’t make the effort to look up something or research something,” Buiting said.
Magill shared similar concerns, noting that her high school offered no classes that taught about other religions.
“There’s a lot of ignorance about any faith except Christianity,” she said of her hometown.
Schaab noted these concerns but continued to encourage the audience to work for open dialogues.
“The best way to do it is around food,” he said.
Theology on Tap takes place from 7-8:30 p.m. on Mondays at McGillacuddy’s. Monday, Feb. 13 will feature Craig Dyke discussing the role of secularism and the Catholic Church; Monday, Feb. 20 will feature Father Joseph Brown discussing evil and suffering.
Editors’ Note: Rana Tahir is a columnist for The Knox Student.