Trip to Princeton

by Sandala on October 8, 2010

I just returned from Princeton, New Jersey. I participated in a Catholic led interfaith service on the sanctity of life. I was invited to this by Professor Robert George, whom I got to know through the Witherspoon Institute. We had a wonderful conversation with a lively audience of what seemed to be mostly Muslims, both students at Princeton and others. Dr. George, to me, represents what is best in the conservative movement. He is a scholar who loves the Western tradition and is committed to a higher set of values than what is presented today as morality. He is also a wonderfully modest man, despite his remarkable intellect and knowledge, and represents real Catholic ethical commitment. He is genuinely dismayed by the attacks of certain segments of the conservative Christian right on Islam. As a devout Catholic, he understands how religion is threatened today by the profoundly secular mindset that has taken over. However, he also recognizes that just as the great faith of St. Augustine and St. Aquinas is today misrepresented in the press as a religion infested with pedophiles, so too, the great faith of our saints, Imam al-Ghazali and Fakhar al-Din al-Razi, is being misrepresented as a religion rooted in terror that produces violent followers thirsting after the blood of infidels. In fact, at the Princeton Chapel, where the service was held, I was shown a beautiful stained glass window representing Abu Bakr al-Razi with the basmallah written in Arabic script on the cathedral window.

I hope I will have other opportunities to engage with Professor Robert George. Interestingly, he has Arab heritage, as his family is originally from an Orthodox Syrian family. His son is fluent in Arabic. With the exception of certain fanatical Marionites and some Coptics who hate Islam, the Arab Christians have a far better understanding of Islam and often are great defenders of Muslims. For example, the Patriarch of Antioch wrote a beautiful letter to Pope Benedict asking him to show greater deference to Islam and pointed out that the Orthodox Christians have lived for centuries in peace with Muslims. Recently, the Coptic Pope appealed to the Egyptian Shariah Court when some Coptics wanted to have rulings for divorce in Egyptian courts instead of being forced to appeal to the Coptic hierarchy for annulments, as divorce in the early Christian tradition and as practiced by Orthodox and Catholics is prohibited. When the Egyptian courts ruled in favor of the Copts, the Pope appealed to the Shariah, as it gives the Christians a legal right to have their own courts in civil matters.

There are many people in the Christian and Jewish communities who are sympathetic to Muslims and are deeply concerned about the attacks against Islam and Muslims. They know from their own past experiences, especially the enlightened members of the Jewish community in the West, what they have suffered and how similar some of the attacks now being made against Islam are to the previous attacks against them. Their communities have also been through difficult times, and that engenders sympathy and empathy toward those now facing similar threats. Hence, I really believe that we need to reach out to our Christian and Jewish allies in the American community, as they do exist. Dr. George is an example of the best.

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