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Sr. Annelle Fitzpatrick continues her reflections on unsuspected opportunities for dialogue with our Muslim neighbors. She engages almost daily with Muslim students in her classes at St. John’s University and is struck by how much they engage with the story of Vincent’s captivity in Tunisia.

This second reflection focuses on an event recorded in both the Quran and the Bible – the Annunciation.

Surrender to God’s will

While most people use the words “Islam” and “Muslim” interchangeably, there is an important distinction to be made. Etymologically, the root of the word “Islam” is to be found in the word “Salaam” meaning “peace” while the word Muslim (in Arabic – “Muslim”) means “submission”. Thus, adherents to this tradition would tell us that the reason for putting the two words together is to demonstrate the central message of the Islamic religion – “submission to Allah” will bring “Peace” .

Knowing that within the Muslim tradition, “submission” to Allah’s will is seen as the cardinal virtue, it is no surprise that Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is held in extremely high esteem for she submitted herself totally to the will of God.

So, when it comes to fostering Christian/Muslim dialogue “Mary” is a powerful source of inspiration for members of both traditions thus giving rise to her latest title, “Our Lady of Encounter”.

The Annunciation in the Quran

We, as Catholics, are all familiar with the passage in the Gospel of Luke where the Angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will conceive and bear a son. However, are we also aware that the Holy Quran records the moment of the “Annunciation” with a passage filled with uncanny parallels?

“And the Angel came to a young virgin and said, “O, Mary, indeed God has chosen you, purified you and raised you above all the women of the world. O Mary, be devoutly obedient to your Lord and bow down in prayer for God gives you the good news of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah Jesus, held in honor in both this world and in the Hereafter. The virgin replied, ‘My Lord, how can I have a son when no man has touched me.’ The angel replied ‘God creates what He wants. When Allah decides something, He only has to say ‘BE’ and it is.”
(Quran 3:45-51; Surah 19 16-21)

So, what do Catholics and Muslims have to talk about? Maybe, if we developed more Interfaith forums in our parishes, such groups could invite members from the local mosque to begin to ponder 3 questions as a start to their deliberations (or raise their own questions)

Discussion starters

I suggest just a few for openers just to get the ball rolling on an interfaith theological reflection related to one specific event that is recorded in both the Gospel and the Quran – the “Annunciation”. ….

  • Why do you suppose Mary said “Yes”. It was a radical and dangerous response – one that could have gotten her stoned to death according to the laws of Moses! What do we think went through the mind of this young woman that brought about a total surrender to God’s/Allah’s will?
  • What would have happened if Mary said “NO” to this invitation? Would “Allah” or “The Father” have gone in search of another faithful woman? Would he have denied sending Jesus to us?
  • How might WE – as “people of faith” return our world to pursuing and responding to the will of God?

I think a parish interfaith society might be tremendously enriched by the fruits of such discussion and find in Mary truly deserving of the title – “Our Lady of Encounter”!

(The story of the letters about Vincent’s captivity has been told many times. Note particularly the account given by Abelly {op. cit., l.l c. 4, pp. 17-18) and by Collet {op. cjV.,Vo1. 1, pp. 22-23). The documents on which these are based are to be found in S. VP 1, pp. I -2; Vlll, pp. 271,513-515.)

Sr. Annelle Fitzpatrick

Sr. Annelle Fitzpatrick, CSJ, Ph.D. is a Sister of St. Joseph, (Brentwood) She has a doctorate in Sociology & Cultural Anthropology and has taught at St. John’s University for over twenty-five years. She is noted for her strong support of the Vincentian Mission and is passionate about interfaith education, dialogue, and encounter. She is a frequent speaker in national forums on issues related to cultural competency and interfaith dialogue within the educational, parish and healthcare settings. (Contact info: fitzpata@stjohns.edu)