Their lasting friendship

After more than two decades, the unity between two Catholic and Muslim leaders still inspires new generations

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3 min read

Anniversaries keep unique moments or days that are milestones in our existences. Sometimes they bring the heavy weight of history, sometimes they honor events that, although modest, are able to leave a legacy for centuries.

On November 14, hundreds of African American Muslims and members of the Focolare Movement gathered online to mark a spiritual friendship that has bound Warith Deen (W.D.) Mohammed, leader of the American Muslim Society and Chiara Lubich, founder of the Focolare Movement.

“Forward Together Building a Just and United World,” an online gathering has celebrated this legacy, with new generations ready to embrace society’s challenges in preparing a better future.

She was a Catholic woman and he was a Muslim man, both of them passionate about God, both of them determined to tread unexplored paths of dialogue and collaboration in the name of unity and fraternity. While 9/11 attempted to make Muslims and Christians enemies in the name of religion, W.D and Chiara established a pact of unity and mutual respect that has involved their own communities around the world.

“The significance of this event cannot be overstated, but it is a symbol, a sign,” said Gary Brandl, who co-directs the North American Focolare’s North East Central region. “However, it proves that our two communities can live together, that people from different backgrounds, different races, different religions, can find themselves to be brothers and sisters, and live in a profound fellowship together.”

In her video message, Focolare president Margaret Karram didn’t ignore the obstacles of this common journey, explaining that “we belong to different ethnic groups, have different cultures and follow religions that sometimes seem to be presented as the cause of conflict.” However, some of these challenges were “due to external causes, those of the world in which we live;” others were due to internal ones. “All of us followers of Chiara and of Imam W.D. Mohammed are just men and women and, as such, fragile and capable of making mistakes,” said Karram, “Nevertheless, we have continued with our commitment, supported by our faith in God and by the certainty that he does not abandon us. Our two great leaders are our models. They want us to be united in life by the common ideal of universal brotherhood,” continued Karram.

The numerous participants, connected from all over the U.S. and beyond, proved this deep commitment, mixing wisdom from the older generations with the energy and enthusiasm of the younger ones. Those who were witnesses of the pact between Chiara and W.D. in 1997, recalled the extraordinary moment of a white woman being hosted in the Malcolm X Mosque in Harlem with 3,000 people present, followed by the gathering in Washington with more than 5,000 people in the year 2000.

A new generation has made this memory relevant and accessible using artistic expressions, music and songs, but also by sharing common values that can drive this interreligious friendship through the consequences of the pandemic, the racial injustices, the economic inequalities, the challenges of AI and technologies.

“I meet people every day who are wandering around with no compass, because they are spiritually lost,” explained Mujahid Deen from Indianapolis, underlining the importance of the long-running connection between the Focolare and the American Muslim Society. “It shows the benefits of being grounded upon something that keeps us focused and balanced: our Creator.”

Muslimah from Ohio feels optimistic after the event: “It has been a sort of springboard into what’s next, which only God can know and create, so we’ll see what will happen as a result of our reunion.”

“I would like to think that Chiara Lubich and Imam W.D. Mohammed are smiling down upon us,” says Sasha from Chicago, “as they are blessing us as we continue to forge ahead.”

This courageous look towards the future is also what Margaret Karram wished at the conclusion of her greeting: “If we are faithful to the legacy of our founders, the great and merciful one God will be with us. And together we will give hope to the world.”

Join the conversation. Send your thoughts to the editor Jon Sweeney.