Interfaith panelists discuss peace, justice

The St. Mark Peace and Justice Committee in Vienna recently sponsored a panel discussion with a priest, a rabbi and an imam. The panelists were asked to answer two questions before taking questions from the audience.

After a welcome and a prayer by Father Patrick Holroyd, pastor, moderator Sandy Chisholm was introduced. Chisholm is the community interfaith coordinator for Fairfax County. Because Judaism is the oldest of the three faiths, Chisholm asked Rabbi Evan Ravski, assistant rabbi at Congregation Olam Tikvah in Fairfax, to begin the discussion.

The first question was: How do peace and justice flow from the beliefs of each tradition?

Rabbi Ravski introduced the audience to the Jewish phrase "Tikkun olam," meaning repairing or fixing the world - working to make it whole again.

He said God has commanded that the pursuit of justice and peace must be actively pursued.

Father Donald J. Rooney, pastor of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in Fredericksburg and chairman of the diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Commission, said God spoke to us through the prophets and established a covenant of love and justice. Jesus then came to bring glad tidings to the poor.

As members of the Body of Christ, Catholics are called to conform to Jesus, who was just and merciful, he said, and we should be particularly mindful of this during the Year of Mercy. He added that Catholics believe that we are made in God's image and likeness, which comes with a dignity that cannot be violated.

The third panelist, Imam Zia Markdoom, is the founder of MakeSpace, an inclusive, welcoming hub for local Muslims, with a focus on youths and young professionals. Imam Zia said that justice is a theme throughout the Quran. He cited several passages in which believers are directed to "stand up firmly for justice," even if it means going against parents or other family members. He said that Muslims who meet a certain threshold, are expected to give a percent of their savings every year to charity. Even if there is no peace, justice is always obligatory, he said.

The imam shared a hadith - a saying of, or biographical anecdote about, Muhammad - saying, "You're not a believer unless and until you love for your brother what you love for yourself."

Imam Zia reminded the audience that media coverage focuses on a small minority of Muslims, terrorists in al-Qaida, the Islamic State group and the Taliban. He is from Afghanistan, where his family suffered from Taliban oppression. "The Taliban are the most vile evil people on earth," he said, adding that most of the terrorists' victims are Muslims.

"Our religion is perfect, be we're not," said Imam Zia. "We are a work in progress."

Imam Zia admitted that there is a martial aspect to Islam. Problems arise when people cherry-pick things from the Quran and quote them out of context.

The imam concluded that, "based on our shared humanity and our shared belief in the tradition of Abraham, it is our shared responsibility to lead the way to bringing people together."

Responding to the event's second question - How can ordinary believers engage in actions to promote peace and justice? - Rabbi Ravski concurred with the imam that "for all religions, fanatics take material out of context and perform actions done in the name of God that give others a bad name."

The rabbi encouraged everyone to "see where you're needed. Provide for the future and the present. There is a myriad of paths to make the world a better place."

"There is no such thing as an ordinary believer," Father Rooney said. "God has placed you here. Everyone has a mission to peace. There is a lot of hatred and persecution in our society." He then challenged attendees, asking them if they know a Muslim or if they only go by what they hear on television. He believes that we need to listen to Muslims personally.

Father Rooney said that when the Muslim community in Fredericksburg wanted to build a new mosque, he was shocked to receive an email from a secular Franciscan, saying: "We need to keep these people out of our community."

That is not the Catholic position, Father Rooney said, which focuses on the inherent dignity and value of all people.

"Overcome indifference and win peace," he said, quoting Pope Francis. Father Rooney said that following the advice of the pope, we should be open to encounter, arrange a dialogue and form a relationship with people of other faiths.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016