8 February, 2018 - Pakistani American community leader discusses Islam, religious extremism
Dr. Muhammad Babar speaks with the monks. Click to enlarge.
Dr. Muhammad Babar gave the monks an overview of Islam, Islamophobia and the roots of religious extremism during an evening talk on Feb. 8. Active in Louisville’s Pakistan American community, Babar is a board member of Interfaith Paths to Peace and the Center for interfaith Relations.
Babar emphasized the values shared by Christianity and Islam. He said that, while theologies differ, the message of both religions is much the same. “You need to take care of the poor and you need to live as a righteous person,” Babar said. “If we all were true to our faith traditions, there would be no war on earth.”
In addition, Babar addressed what he said were common misunderstandings he encountered in his interfaith activities. For example, contrary to popular opinion, Islam has a long tradition of women’s equality both in theological and practical terms, Babar said. He cited women’s property rights and other legal capacities going back to the 7th century as well as current women in roles of political leadership around the world.
The presentation was part of an ongoing series of guest lectures for the monks. Topics cover a wide variety of subjects. Br. Paul Quenon, who helps organize the speaking engagements, said that since 9/11 it is important – even in a monastery – to have a greater understanding of Islam and the political issues facing the world today. “As monks, we should be praying for the world,” Br. Paul said. “We need to have some exposure to Muslims and we need to understand this troublesome area of international life.”
In his talk, Babar stressed that personal encounters were crucial. “Relationships bring understanding,” Babar said. He spoke of the Louisville Islamic Center, which was vandalized in Louisville during the summer of 2015. As a spokesman for the center, he invited the community – including the anonymous vandals – to help paint over the graffiti. People came in droves to help out. “In my heart I believe some of the vandals helped that day,” Babar said.
The Abbey of Gethsemani has a long tradition of interfaith dialogue. In the 1960’s, Thomas Merton gave evening talks to the community about non-Christian mystical traditions, including Hasidism and Sufism. Merton also knew the Dalai Lama, who in fact visited the abbey. In 1996, the abbey was host to 50 Buddhist and Christian monastics in what came known as the Gethsemani Encounter. This became a series, the most recent of which was hosted at the abbey in May 2015.
The community thanks Dr. Babar for his informative and engaging visit.