Dialogue at New York Islamic Center

This past Sunday, some of the Paulist students were invited to participate in a dialog that was held at Park 51, the site of the new Islamic Center in downtown Manhattan that has been getting so much attention in the news as of late. The event was sponsored by Unity Productions, an organization that has been promoting an initiative entitled “20,000 Dialogues,” in which a particular documentary film is watched about the faith of Islam, followed by a discussion. A few days later, I sat down with Craig Campbell, CSP to ask him about the event.

TG: How did you get involved in this dialogue?

CC: I saw their documentary “Talking Through Walls” on PBS. After the airing, the company who made the film would send it out for free to those who would commit to hosting a dialog, so I ended up hosting one when I was on a parish assignment in Toronto and we had a showing last year here in DC. We’re going to be doing it again in Washington on October 29.

TG: How did the event go?

CC: Very well. 75 people showed up for the dialog at Park 51… the building is basically gutted right now with industrial carpeting on the floor in anticipation of the construction that’s scheduled. At 6:30 and at 9 o’clock there was prayer, which was just incredible. The singing involved in their prayer was so beautiful… it was just incredible. In between those times of prayer, we watched the film “Talking Through Walls” and had the dialog.

TG: What was discussed?

CC: Well, we definitely talked about all of the energy around Park 51 right now. And out of that, people were asking if the United States was Islamaphobic. If the America is intolerant with that with which we are not familiar. And right now, the consensus among the people gathered in response to those questions seemed to be yes.

TG: I know there has been a lot of discussion in the press surrounding the original name of the location, “Cordoba House.”

CC: I asked someone from the organization specifically about that. The name refers to city in Spain and it harkens back to a time when the Muslims controlled two-thirds of the Iberian peninsula. It does represent a time of conflict, but it also happened to be a time of tremendous interfaith dialogue between Jews, Christians, and Muslims because they were all living together, especially in this one city.

This was also a time of tremendous philosophical development on all sides. The Islamic philosopher Averroes. The Jewish Philosopher Maimonides. But it also signified the time when Islamic culture re-introduced Aristotle to Western Europe, who had been lost for centuries… that preservation of Aristotle by the Muslim scholar Avicenna became the cornerstone for Saint Thomas Aquinas’ philosophy, which serves as one of the major underpinnings of our Roman Catholic tradition today.

TG: How did you get involved in Islamic issues?

CC: A number of years ago when I was working in a local TV station—before 9/11—I got to know the cameraman who was a Turkish Muslim. I was really impressed by what I saw in him during Ramadan… a committed, practicing Muslim who was not a fundamentalist. He treated his wife with respect and there was not sense of submissiveness in her. He was just a very good man.

Then 9/11 happened and I realized that I did not know the particulars of the faith. A few years later when I was living in Charleston, South Carolina, I was helping out with an RCIA program and one of the speakers said, “If Muslims and Christians ever come together it will be through Mary. Mary is mentioned in the Koran even more than in the Bible… and Jesus is their highest prophet below Mohammed!”

TG: How was the event as a whole?

CC: It was really good. There were no fireworks at all. It’s funny, the people behind the center are Sufi Muslims, which is the smallest branch in Islam. They have a strong traditions of saints (like we Catholics do), they are more joyous in celebration. Very into non-violence. They are far from the extremists on the Arabian Peninsula.

And one more thing, I have to say that the NYPD was great during the whole event. Very courteous on the streets surrounding the center.

TG: Always important to give a shout out to them. Thanks a lot for your time!

For more information regarding Unity Productions and “Talking Through Walls,” visit www.upf.tv.

For more information regarding 20,000 Dialogues, visit http://www.20000dialogues.org.

If you are going to be in the Washington, DC area on Friday, October 29, the Washington Paulist house will be hosting a viewing of “Talking Through Walls,” followed by a discussion.

Father Tom Gibbons was ordained a Paulist priest in 2012. Prior to becoming a priest, he spent time as a Jesuit Volunteer in Phoenix, AZ, working with immigrants in El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico. He's also worked as a graphic designer and web developer, serving nonprofits like Success For All Foundation, Baltimore City Head Start, and Catholic Relief Services. He previously wrote a blog entitled “Kicking and Screaming” for Busted Halo. After serving as a deacon at Holy Trinity Parish in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., Father Tom was sent to St. Peter’s Church in Toronto, where he first served as Associate Pastor and then as the Parish Administrator. In 2016, he produced a documentary on the founder of the Paulist Fathers, entitled “Isaac Hecker and the Journey of Catholic America” – featuring celebrity voices of Martin Sheen, Matt McCoy, and Bob Gunton. Father Tom is currently at work on a new documentary investigating the complicated legacy of the Catholic Church in California with the film “Junipero Serra: Statue of Limitations,” scheduled for release in 2022. In addition to his work as Vice President of Paulist Productions, Father Tom also performs pastoral work at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church and Transfiguration Catholic Church in Los Angeles, CA.