Catholics and Muslims take part in interfaith seminar on life and human dignity

Fr David Garcia speaking at the Building Bridges Seminar as fellow presenter, Ustaz Mahmoud Mathlub Sidek (far right), and moderator, Ms Liyana Rosli Asmara, look on.

By Christopher Khoo

A recent interfaith seminar saw Catholics and Muslims sharing on the topic, “Religion, Sanctity of Life and Human Dignity”.

The whole of the Catholic Church’s social doctrine “develops from the principle that affirms the inviolable dignity of the human person”, Dominican Fr David Garcia told hundreds of Catholic and Muslim participants at the Building Bridges Seminar (BBS).

The moral theologian was quoting Pope John XXIII during the event held at St Joseph’s Institution on March 24.

Highlighting points from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Fr Garcia explained that man alone “is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God’s own life. It was for this end that he was created, and this is the fundamental reason for his dignity”.

Fr Garcia shared that because all people belong to the human species, “we all share the same nature”.

“We all have the basic right to develop our intrinsic potentiality as human persons and society owes us the respect to that right,” he explained.

He also highlighted points from Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, Centesimus Annus, such as the emphasis on the sanctity of life from conception to natural death, people’s right to share in work, to freely establish a family, and to have and rear children through the responsible exercise of one’s sexuality.

Fr Garcia also explained the difference between rights and liberties. “Not everything we claim today as ‘rights’ is indeed a true, basic human right. Human rights are more than mere liberties individuals can claim for themselves”, he explained in his slide presentation.

For example, “we all have the liberty to take the MRT, but if it closes, we can’t go to the UN and say that our fundamental rights have been violated”, said Fr Garcia.

In his talk, Ustaz Mahmoud Mathlub Sidek, assistant director of the Asatizah Recognition Scheme Office, Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), explained that Islam teaches that “all life is holy and sacred” and that “one life is as valuable as the whole human

“As Muslims, we are instructed to treat others with respect as we will be judged in the next life and thus the sanctity of life makes everyone equal,” he shared in his presentation.

In Islam, human dignity refers to “the inviolability of the human person, recognition of a set of rights and obligations and guarantee of safe conduct by others, including the society and state”, he explained.

The seminar was organised by Harmony Centre, an initiative of Muis, in partnership with the Archdiocesan Catholic Council for Interreligious Dialogue (ACCIRD).

It was the culmination of a series of six interfaith sessions last year which saw six Catholics and six Muslims sharing on the Scriptures from their own faith traditions.

During the March 24 seminar, a Catholic participant and a Muslim participant who took part in these sessions spoke about their experiences.

Ms Desiree Hwang shared that it was “truly an enriching and enlightening experience for all of us” to learn about the similarities and differences between both faiths.

Ustaz Muhammad Ashraf bin Anwar from the Harmony Centre shared that the six sessions led to a deep fellowship among the Catholic and Muslim participants who became good friends at the end of the programme.

The guest-of-honour at the seminar was Dr Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Defence & Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Mayor, South East CDC (Community Development Council). 

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