Imam Ahmad Sheqeirat

A late follow-on to a terrific event:

On April 11, a group of lawyers put on the second in their series called a “Civil Discourse Event.” The notion behind the series hosted by the St. Thomas More Society is to select topics that may get some people hot under the collar but then to provide commentary and facts—actual facts!—that may help reduce the temperature.

The April event was titled “Islamic American Relations: Getting Along in the 21st Century.”

Moderated by former Court of Appeals Judge Patrick Irvine, the evening at ASU Law School nudged attendees toward a greater understanding of the issue. (And to be clear, there is no hyphen between the terms, which would suggest that Muslims are on one side and Americans are on the other. The title referred to those who are Islamic and American.)

The speakers were Imam Ahmad Sheqeirat (as described by event organizer Christopher Pattock) “one of the so-called ‘Flying Imams’ who made the national news by being kicked off a U.S. Airways in Minnesota about a year ago simply for praying.” The other speaker was best-selling author Chris Lowney, an expert on Islam.

Lawyer Alan Tavassoli opened the evening with a history presentation delineating our ebb and flow in regard to the separation of church and state. As he and the record made clear, “America is a nation of disagreements.”

The rest of the evening was committed to the conclusion that we need not be disagreeable. In that endeavor, the speakers were successful.

The Tempe imam provided a useful discussion of important tenets of Islam. Among the significant insights he shared was an analysis of what “secularism” often means to American Muslims who emigrated here from another country.

“Many Muslims were raised in Jordan or Turkey, where secularism is militant, and where people may be arrested or beaten for any religious showing.” Given that experience, Imam Ahmad Sheqeirat said, it’s no wonder that some Muslims may dislike the term. That does not mean, however, that they misunderstand or disagree with an American approach that separates church and state.

Chris Lowney

Misunderstanding of all kinds, Sheqeirat said, is best met head-on through face-to-face meetings. He concluded, “We are all in this together in the face of injustice and racism.”

Chris Lowney followed. The author of “A Vanished World: Medieval Spain’s Golden Age of Enlightenment” explored the chasm that lies between people in regard to their understanding of other faiths. He discussed elements of world history that illustrate his view that “We have many shared theological values and shared culture to draw on.”

“When we admit we are all here together,” Lowney continued, “something powerful can happen.”

Lowney did not reside in truisms, though. He ended with “5 things we can do in Arizona right now” to improve the dialogue among people.

  1. Read a book together.

He suggested “What Everyone Needs To Know About Islam,” but anything—even “To Kill a Mockingbird”—would help in mutual understanding.

  1. Discuss a movie together.

How about “Allah Made Me Funny,” Lowney asked. Or perhaps “Cities of Light,” regarding the rise and fall of Islamic Spain. (Both are available from the Unity Productions Foundation.)

  1. Visit each others’ worship spaces.
  1. Work together—across faiths—to improve your local community.

Habitat for Humanity, anyone?

  1. Invite our community’s youth to work together.

    Maria Salapska, 1952-2012

Congratulations for a great evening to the lawyers and others who comprise the St. Thomas More Society.

A final somber note: Very soon after this event, the legal community was saddened to learn of the sudden death of Maria Salapska. An accomplished lawyer, Maria was a past President of the St. Thomas More Society. Rest in peace.

More photos from the event are on the Arizona Attorney Magazine Facebook page.