The National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the American Muslim Council have come together several times in the 1990s to issue joint statements on public issues of concern. The statements reflect an ongoing Catholic-Muslim dialogue begun in 1991. In 1993, after the World Trade Center bombing in New York, the presidents of the two organizations, Archbishop William Keeler and Dr. Mahmoud Abu-Saud, issued the Joint Statement on Religion and Terrorism. In 1994, Archbishop Keeler joined with the Mohammed Aslam Cheema of the American Muslim Council in a joint statement addressed to the U.N. Cairo Conference on Population and Development.
Joint Statement on Terrorism and Religion Following the World Trade Center Bombing
News Release, April 17, 1993:
The President of an Islamic organization and the President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops have issued a joint statement rejecting any effort to claim religious sanction for acts of aggression and terrorism.
“Together we urge all not to impugn whole peoples or their religions because of the despicable acts of some,” they said.
“Aggression and terrorism wherever they occur are to be condemned since they constitute an illegitimate use of force and therefore violate the law of God. This we affirm without qualification.
“With equally strong resolve we reject any effort to claim a religious inspiration or sanction for such contemptible acts. This misguided contention disfigures religion itself,” they said.
The joint statement was made public today by Dr. Mahmoud AbuSaud, President of the American Muslim Council, and Archbishop William H. Keeler of Baltimore, President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The statementthe first ever issued jointly by the heads of these two national organizationscomes against the background of the World Trade Center bombing in New York, its aftermath, and similar recent acts of violence around the world. It constitutes a common set of general principles to guide discussion of these incidents.
Commenting on the statement, Archbishop Keeler said: “As President of the NCCB, I welcome this opportunity to join with the President of the Muslim Council, Dr. Mahmoud AbuSaud, our partner in dialogue, in addressing a matter which has been of great concern to all Americans and to people everywhere. This occasion is significant because the gravity of the topic has moved us to affirm these common values and because this is the first joint action of the Presidents of our two organizations.”
Archbishop Keeler and Dr. AbuSaud also reaffirmed their commitment to ChristianMuslim dialogue for eradicating misunderstanding and for the pursuit of common values, such as justice, peace, and respect for creation. Mutual understanding and growth in the religious life are prominent goals in interreligious dialogue and relations.
The joint statement on religion and terrorism is the first bilateral statement issued by the NCCB and AMC; it is not the first time the two organizations have joined in a written statement. On October 6, 1992, Cardinal Bernard Law, Chairman of the NCCB Committee on Migration, signed an interfaith appeal for Balkan refugees with representatives of the American Muslim Council, the National Council of Churches, the American Jewish Committee, and the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in America. In November Dr. AbuSaud’s name was added to those of Cardinal Law and others in letters to the Presidents of the United States, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the Republics of Bosnia and Yugoslavia for the same rescue appeal.
The statement springs from a relationship established between the AMC and NCCB through a Catholic/Muslim national dialogue which they coordinate. The first meeting took place in October, 1991 and the second in October, 1992 with Dr. AbuSaud and Bishop Joseph Gerry of Portland, Maine, NCCB Episcopal Moderator for Interreligious Relations, copresiding.
Several Catholic dioceses sponsor bilateral dialogues with Muslims while others send representatives to councils and commissions where Christians, Muslims, Jews and others come together on a regular basis. In their statement, Archbishop Keeler and Dr. AbuSaud urged Catholics and Muslims to continue these efforts and to pray and act in behalf of common values.
“On January 9,” Archbishop Keeler observed, “I had the wonderful honor of attending prayers in a mosque and to host the Imam of the Islamic Society in Baltimore for prayers at the Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Several religious leaders joined us for a pilgrimage to houses of prayer in Baltimore for peace in the Balkans, and we were together in spirit through our journeying, fasting and praying with those religious leaders gathered with Pope John Paul II in Assisi on the same day. Today, I am also honored to join with Dr. AbuSaud in this first joint statement of our organizations,” Archbishop Keeler stated.
The joint statement on religion and terrorism:
As the Presidents of two organizations that have been codirecting a national dialogue between Catholics and Muslims for two years, we declare our agreement on general principles to guide discussions of such incidents as the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York.
Together we urge all not to impugn whole peoples or their religions because of the despicable acts of some.
Aggression and terrorism wherever they occur are to be condemned since they constitute an illegitimate use of force and therefore violate the law of God. This we affirm without qualification.
With equally strong resolve we reject any effort to claim a religious inspiration or sanction for such contemptible acts. This misguided contention disfigures religion itself.
It is important at this time for us to reaffirm our commitment to one another. A major goal of ChristianMuslim dialogue is to eradicate misrepresentations of Islam, Christianity, and the history of ChristianMuslim relations. Another goal is to cooperate in pursuit of common values, in particular, justice, peace, and respect for creation.
We are encouraged by the fact that dialogue between Catholics and Muslims is already taking place in several American cities.
As the Presidents of the American Muslim Council and of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops we call upon our faithful to come together to dialogue, to pray, and to act in behalf of our common values.
Joint Statement on the occasion of the U.N. Cairo Conference on Population and Development
August 31, 1994
“We agree that abortion is an evil. The coercion of abortion, whether subtle or overt, is repugnant to us,” said Mohammed Aslam Cheema, president of the American Muslim Council, and Archbishop William Keeler of Baltimore, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a joint statement released Sept. 1 at a news conference in New York. Issues addressed in the statement included the equality of women and men, the abuse of women, development and the family. “Our positions are based on teachings and moral principles rooted in our earliest traditions. We share a special reverence for life,” the statement said. “Spelled out clearly in the teachings of both traditions is the right of every individual for true development in all dimensions, social, cultural and spiritual, with justice and equality for all so that every person will have the opportunity to experience the divine gifts of dignity and peace,” the statement said. It added that for Muslims and Catholics “the family is the principal school of virtues, the primary school of religious instruction.” It said that the teachings of Catholics and Muslims “are nuanced differently with regard to methods of family planning, but we agree that one goal of the divinely ordained marriage between a husband and wife is the creation of new life.” The statement said that “no government or nongovernmental agency outside the family should provide counsel or services to unmarried adolescents without the knowledge and express consent of their parents.” It said everyone should have the opportunity for an education, including women and male and female children. Such rights and issues related to development “should be the primary points for engaging nations rather than means of population control,” the statement said. The statement follows:
At the invitation of the American Muslim Council to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, we, the presidents of these two organizations which have cooperated on several projects in the past, now issue this joint statement on certain aspects of the current public discussion of the upcoming Cairo conference.
This statement represents another step in an ongoing relationship between our two organizations. We recall other important steps together, in particular a previous joint statement on religion and terrorism issued April 16, 1993, in the aftermath of the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York. That statement was issued with the signatures of Dr. Cheema’s predecessor, Dr. Mahmoud AbuSaud, and of Archbishop Keeler, when we condemned acts of terrorism and declared our agreement on certain general principles. We concluded that statement by expressing our encouragement that dialogue between Catholics and Muslims was already taking place in several American cities.
In 1991, the participants in the first national dialogue between Catholics and Muslims, which our organizations cosponsored, attested that this dialogue would seek to join together for the realization of common values. Our organizations cosponsored a second national dialogue and have cooperated on a number of other projects; especially noteworthy were an interfaith appeal for Balkan refugees and a prayer vigil for peace coinciding with the interfaith prayer vigil hosted by Pope John Paul II in Assisi on Jan. 9, l993.
This statement on the Cairo conference therefore, is that of a partnership with a history and with ongoing consultation. Even now our staff are discussing, in a preliminary way, a proposal to convene our national dialogue on certain aspects of marriage and family life.
The worldwide discussion about the draft program of action for the International Conference on Population and Development, called by the United Nations in Cairo next week, has motivated us to make this joint statement today. We draw attention to important values which we share with regard to topics on the agenda. Our positions are based on teachings and moral principles rooted in our earliest traditions.
We share a special reverence for life. For Catholics this is often summarized under the expression “the sanctity of human life,” which includes respect for the life and dignity of every human being, born and unborn. Muslims fully agree with this; in addition they recite specific passages in the holy Quran against the great evil of the killing of children, which at the time of the prophet often meant female infanticide. Spelled out clearly in the teachings of both traditions is the right of every individual for true development in all dimensions, social, cultural and spiritual with justice and equality for all, so that every person will have the opportunity to experience the divine gifts of dignity and peace. We agree that care must be taken to distinguish the God-given right to development for every person in the human community and a false individualism that puts self-centered goals before the good of others. Such individualism is antithetical to our understandings of social justice.
We agree that abortion is an evil. The coercion of abortion, whether subtle or overt, is repugnant to us. We join our voices with Pope John Paul II, the scholars of Al Azhar University and leaders throughout the world calling on the Cairo conference to reaffirm the decision of the 1984 Mexico City international conference that all nations should “take appropriate steps to help women avoid abortion, which in no case should be promoted as a method of family planning, and whenever possible provide for the humane treatment and counseling of women who have had recourse to abortion.” Our solemn concern is that, in preparation for this meeting on population and development, access to abortion is being discussed as a policy of population control and even as a legitimate aspect of reproductive health care or fertility regulation. We join all those calling upon nations affirming policies of permissive abortion to cease the massive deaths of the unborn and the severe harm to women who undergo abortions.
For Muslims and Catholics alike, the family is the principal school of virtues, the primary school of religious instruction. We endorse wholeheartedly the rights of the family to organize its own religious life in the home and under the control of the parents. The family is the basic unit not only for society but for a just and holy society.
A family is a sacred relationship among persons. A family proceeds from the marriage between a man and a woman, and this formative bond of families is divinely mandated. We agree that the union of a wife and husband is intended to be an intimate, exclusive, permanent and faithful partnership, even though our traditions may have differing practices regarding some of these aspects. Even though we are compassionately aware that there are large numbers of single parent families, we are distressed at current efforts to redefine family and other developments that devalue marriage.
Our views of the family, based upon revelation as we each understand it, also draw attention to our similar teachings on the holiness and integrity of human sexuality. The climate of sexual permissiveness which is prevalent in some parts of the world stands in stark contrast to our teachings on the family and human sexuality. It further underscores with urgency the rights and responsibilities of parents for the moral and sexual education of the future generation. No government or non governmental agency outside the family should provide counsel or services to unmarried adolescents without the knowledge and express consent of their parents.
Our teachings are nuanced differently with regard to methods of family planning, but we agree that one goal of the divinely ordained marriage between a husband and wife is the creation of new life.
Development in connection with population growth is indeed the major focus of the Cairo conference. We join all men and women of good will in stating our agreement that true development is based on meeting the needs of every human person and the common good. Muslims and Christians are committed to meeting the needs of the poor. The serious ecological questions and other issues regarding land use, efficient production and distribution of food provide us with the opportunities to affirm our moral principles and to overcome the temptation of selfishness. Every human being has a right to participate fully in economic and social development. Everyone should have the opportunity for an education, and this is equally true for women and for male and female children. These rights and issues should be the primary points for engaging nations rather than means of population control.
The Conference on Population and Development focuses also on the equality of women in dignity and rights. The particular gifts of women as teachers of the faith, bestowers of values, imparters of wisdom, leaders of projects and officeholders have sustained our two traditions from their origins. Development and expansion of the roles of women in society and the educational and health needs of women, which are insufficiently met across the world, should be addressed by nations. Abuse and violence against women, whether individually or collectively, whether motivated by sinfulness or cultural biases, should be condemned and action taken for the eradication of abuse, violence and neglect of women and girls everywhere.
Discussion of population, consumption and resources purely for demographic objectives too often leads to the imposition of standards and policies of some nations on other nations. As members of the two largest religious groups on Earth, embracing the human family extensively on every continent in rich and poor nations alike, we are acutely aware of the need for arriving at universally accepted procedures and policies. Therefore, we plead that the language of the final text on the issues which are of critical concern to us be unambiguous and not open to opposing interpretations.
It is indeed critical to hear from religious communities because they provide moral and inspirational perspectives on these critical issues. Religion is very much a part of the lives of people in the United States and throughout the world, providing sustenance and knowledge for addressing ultimate questions of meaning and the human condition. With ancient wisdom and extensive resources of knowledge and skills, religious communities are committed to meeting the profound needs of all and to respect for the Earth.
We express together our concern about the crass labeling of the positions of Muslims on population and development issues as “fundamentalist,” implying they are extremists, when they indeed are speaking from the heart of their tradition. We also wish to note for the record that the Holy See has had diplomatic relations with countries with Muslim majorities, a practice which can be traced back even to ancient times. Full diplomatic relations with many “Islamic” nations have been on the public record for a long time.
We conclude by noting that there are threats of violence against those who will attend this important International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo. We reiterate these sentences from our 1993 joint statement: “Aggression and terrorism wherever they occur are to be condemned since they constitute an illegitimate use of force and therefore violate the law of God… With equally strong resolve we reject any effort to claim a religious inspiration or sanction for such contemptible acts.”
[“Joint Statement on Terrorisim and Religion Following the World Trade Center Bombing“; “Joint Statement on the ocassion of the U.N. Cairo Conference on Population and Development” (First printed via Catholic News Service Documentary Service, Vol. 24, No. 14, pp. 250-252). 15 September 1994. American Muslim Council and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.usccb.org.]