Amina Rasul, convener of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy, is the only Philippine participant, according to Mindanews, an online news service based in Mindanao, the southern Philippines.
The council she helped establish describes itself as an NGO committed to building a “peaceful, progressive, and democratic Muslim Mindanao.”
The Catholic-Muslim Forum arose from a meeting of five Muslim scholars and five representatives of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, held this past March at the Vatican.
A March 6 statement signed by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the pontifical council, and Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad, imam (prayer leader) of the Cambridge Mosque and director of Muslim Academic Trust, announced the November seminar. It said the forum was organizing the seminar, its first, “in order to further develop Catholic-Muslim dialogue.”
Muslim and Catholic representatives, 24 of each along with five experts, have been invited to the Nov. 4-6 seminar.
Discussions the first two days will center on the theme Love of God, love of neighbor. The Nov. 4 session will focus on the theological and spiritual foundations of Christian and Muslim teachings about the obligation to love God and one’s neighbor, and the next day on “human dignity and mutual respect,” the statement said.
Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to meet the participants before they attend an afternoon public session at Pontifical Gregorian University.
In a message shared with UCA News Oct. 27, Rasul said she supported A Common Word, an open letter signed by 138 Muslim scholars in reaction to the pope’s address to a 2006 academic audience at the University of Regensburg, Germany. His citation of a historical reference to Islam and religious violence stirred debate and drew angry remarks from Muslim scholars.
As she prepared to leave for Rome, she said she continues to feel concerned about “the humanitarian crisis” in Mindanao, where thousands of people have fled their homes to escape fighting between government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) forces. The fighting erupted in some areas following the failure to sign a peace agreement in August.
More than 80 percent of about 5 million Muslims in the Philippines live in Mindanao, where the MILF has been fighting since the 1970s for self-rule in their claimed territories. According to the 2007 census, 81 percent of the 88.57 million Filipinos are Catholics.
On Oct. 30, Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro, who chairs the Philippine bishops’ interreligious dialogue commission, told UCA News the forum is “important” because it provides a channel for continuing dialogue. He said the theme, taken from the Muslims’ letter, “expressed that Muslims also have the two major commandments that Christianity shares in — love of God and love of neighbor.”
During the telephone interview, the Jesuit bishop said these provide the “foundational points for continued dialogue and common action.”
In the prelate’s view, the seminar and the forum show “that Muslim and Christian religious leaders are willing to go beyond” their original misunderstanding and “that the ultimate values and beliefs of Islam and Christianity are for peace, love of God and love of neighbor.”
He hopes the Vatican gathering will inspire meetings among Christian and Muslim religious leaders in Mindanao on love of God and love of neighbor.
Rasul can contribute much to the discussions at the Vatican, as well as to bringing about some common understanding among the Muslim groups in the Philippines, “and also with the Christian leaders,” he said.
He noted she is the daughter of a former senator and hails from Jolo, Sulu province, in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Rasul, 54, is the first Filipino to be invited as a senior fellow by the Washington-based United States Institute for Peace, 2001-2002. She has also taught peace and conflict studies at the Pontifical University of Santo Tomas in Manila.