Until the twin towers came tumbling down on September 11, 2001, forever changing the landscape of our lives, many Americans knew little about Islam.
But once we learned that the 19 men on-board the planes that day were Muslim Arabs, many saw Islam as a religion of terror, violence, and intolerance.
Notre Dame's Father Theodore Hesburgh says the Muslim faith must not be judged by the actions of Osama bin Laden's ruthless followers.
“It's a historical fact in our day that the Muslim religion has been taken over by the bomb throwers,” he said. “It would be as if the Catholic religion were being judged today by Torquemada or Savonarola, who burned people at the stake. That's not Christian and that's not Catholic. That happened to us in the Middle Ages, and thank God it's over.”
Hesburgh reminds us that Islam is the second largest religion in the world after Christianity, and that most followers do not believe an attack on America was approved by Allah.
“People forget there are millions, or excuse me, a billion, two-hundred million Muslims in the world. That's more than there are Catholics, just to mention one particular religion.”
He calls the Koran a beautiful book and the Muslim faith a bonafide religion.
“There are only two chapters I know of that are belligerent and warlike, and I think a bit overdone. And to judge the whole Koran, or the whole Muslim religion on those two chapters is terrible.”
Healing our divided world is key, and Notre Dame's Kroc Institute for International Peace, founded while Hesburgh was Notre Dame's president, is working toward that goal.
But it has certainly not been easy.
In 2004, Notre Dame tried to hire a Muslim scholar to teach a seminar in Islamic Ethics. Before this could happen, however, the Department of Homeland Security revoked his visa.
“We at Notre Dame are trying to bring in some top Muslim scholars who can put out the true story of the Muslim religion, speak about its goodness, not its cruelty or its aggressiveness. I think that would be a great favor to the Muslim religion, rather than come through as a religion led by these bomb throwers.”
Osama bin Laden may be urging his followers to fight the cause of Islam, but Father Hesburgh says there is nothing holy about the war in Iraq.
“I think the religion thing is completely overdone,” he said. “It seems to me the very worst people are standing to represent the religion.”
And, many believe, masking their cause in religious rhetoric.
The conversation with Father Hesburgh will continue next Monday on Newscenter 16 at 11.
The topic will be the war in Iraq, and he will speak about the billions spent each month, the lives lost, and whether he believes we should be there.