US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Muslims on Catholic campuses

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The Washington Post has an article about the growing number of Muslims at Catholic universities today that has interesting implications.

First, the article quotes a Catholic student who is friends with a Muslim: "'We do this thing where he teaches me his prayers in Arabic, and I share with him the prayers I say as a Catholic,' said one of his friends, Kenny White, 20, a sophomore from Annapolis. 'I've learned about God by learning about him and his own faith. It's been a really important and beautiful part of being here.'"

This quote is telling because "interfaith dialogue" isn't just for more "liberal" members of faith groups. Traditional Muslims and Catholics can relate a lot, whether about spirituality and ritual or social issues. They just need to come into contact with each other in positive setting, such as a place of learning.

Second, Muslims report feeling comfortable at Catholic institutions: "'Because it is an overtly religious place, it's not strange or weird to care about your religion here, to pray and make God a priority,' said Shabnan, a political science major who often covers her head with a pale beige scarf. 'They have the same values we do.'"

The reporter seems to find it surprising that a Muslim would pray in a church with crucifixes and images of Mary, but while Muslim culture avoids such depictions, Muslims know and revere Mary and Jesus as well.

Still, I wonder how Muslims fit in socially considering Donna Freitas' findings that Catholic schools are no better than secular schools when it comes to the extent of "hook up culture" on campuses. Since reading Akbar Ahmed's book on Muslims in America (look for an interview with him next year), I've been thinking that Muslims could be good partners for those concerned about the culture's attitudes toward sexuality--if both groups can forgive the other for their extremes.

Finally, the welcoming nature of Catholic universities is often part of their charism. This is not surprising to me, but it's essential that everyone on campus buys into the charism. 

Most of the schools involved in the Iraqi Student Project, which brings young Iraqi refugees to the U.S. to complete their education, are Catholic--and they do it because they are Catholic. Unfortunately, I've heard at least one story of a Muslim student (not all the refugees are Muslim) being pressured to convert. (Disclaimer: Bryan and I are both connected to the program and have met many of the refugees.)

As long as the atmosphere is welcoming, respectful, and faithful, Muslims on Catholic colleges can be a good thing for the schools, for society, and for the individuals.