Bridging the Gap Between Islam and Christianity


Published: September 22, 2010

As the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks passed, the U.S.  continued to represent a unified presence. Yet, instead of a strengthened, undivided nation, Rev. Patrick Ryan, S.J., professor of theology, says disconnect and violence towards the Muslim community has only seemed to grow.

Father Patrick Ryan, professor of theology at Fordham University, is planning educational programs. (Courtesy Of Fordham University ‘s Office of Public Affairs)

With the recent attacks on Islam, such as the proclamation of Quran burnings by Rev. Terry Jones in Gainesville, Florida, Father Ryan says that the chasm between religious tolerance and understanding of Islam and the present seems to have only deepened. He has launched several campaigns to alleviate this in his attempts to bridge the gap between Islam and Christianity.

“As we can see from the controversy surrounding the former Burlington Coat Factory on Park Place,  which is not going to be a mosque but an Islamic cultural center… [religious tolerance] can be a major issue,” Ryan said.

Ryan, together with Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, who is well known for his programs in partnering with the Jewish community, has begun outreach efforts in the Muslim community.

“Together with my friends Rabbi Leonard Schoolman and professor Hussein Rashid and the Park Avenue Christian Church… as well as representatives of Union Theological Seminary, Jewish Theological Seminary and other religious bodies are planning some educational programs on Islam at the moment,” Ryan said.

He stresses the need to acknowledge that Islam, like every religion, has several factions and sects, each with a unique interpretation of their sacred text, the Quran. The regions and socio-economic situations where these factions reside also play a crucial part in their beliefs of religious expression. Ryan believes that only by considering Islam as a whole can true acceptance take root.

“Only when we understand this variety will we begin to grasp the richness of that religious tradition, a richness not exhausted by the proponents of any one particular school of thought,” Ryan said in a recent issue of Commonweal, a Catholic journal of opinion and discussion. “We might start by welcoming Muslims to pray in the mosque next door—and even in a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero.”

Ryan spoke of the great admiration he had for the Fordham community in the respect they give to differing religions. “When I taught ‘Sacred Texts of the Middle East’ in the spring of 2009, I was delighted to have Muslims, Jews and Hindus as well as Catholics and other Christians in the class,” Ryan said. “We learned together. That’s the best way to bridge the gaps that confront New Yorkers, Americans and all of humanity.”