fbpx
Fr. Michael Calabria hosting Muslim students and families at St. Bonaventure University
Fr. Michael Calabria hosts Muslim students and families at the school's Interfaith Iftar 2022 | Photo courtesy of St. Bonaventure University

Franciscan friar at Catholic university immerses Islamic culture in campus life

Lying in my tent under the night sky in the Egyptian desert, I began to hear beautiful sounds from outside. The Egyptian workers who served as our guides sat in a circle listening to a cassette tape recording of the Islamic Culture Prayer. To this day, it was one of the most beautiful things I ever heard.

Fr. Michael Calabria
Interview Subject
Fr. Michael D. Calabria is a Franciscan Friar of Holy Name Province with a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies. His experience in the Middle East and the Islamic world began nearly 40 years ago when, as an Egyptology student at Johns Hopkins University (BA, 1983) and Brown University (MA, 1985), he performed archaeological work in Egypt.

Fr. Michael has traveled extensively in the Islamic world, and has visited and conducted research in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan Syria, Oman, Turkey and India. He speaks widely on various aspects of Islam and Islamic culture including the Qur’an, Islamic spirituality, art and architecture, and Christian-Muslim relations. 

He currently serves as an Associate Professor of Arab and Islamic Studies and the Director of the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies at St. Bonaventure University in Western New York.
Backkground Information
In an interview with Independent Catholic News (click here to read), Fr. Calabria answers questions such as:

“Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam has been denigrated by some Christians in the past centuries? What should be the Christian approach to Muhammad in the present context and understanding in the light of the teaching of the Vatican II?”

“Muslim theologians seem to hold that human sin is merely a matter of forgetfulness requiring reminder. Christian theologians maintain that human sin is deeply rebellious and requires grace to heal the human wounds of sin. How these two views could be brought into a fruitful theological conversation where both sets of believers benefit mutually?”

Read more about the Center for Arab & Islamic Studies and the Muslim Student Association at St. Bonaventure University by clicking here.

ST. BONAVENTURE, New York ꟷ Studying Egyptology as a college student in the 1980’s, I discovered Islamic culture. For four decades, I have worked to show people Muslims are not terrorists. I am a Catholic, Franciscan friar and the closest friendships I ever made are with Muslim people.

Discovering Islam under the starry Egyptian sky

The year I began studying Egyptology, one of my college professors noticed my interest and passion and suggested I go on a school-sponsored trip to Egypt. I signed up immediately. While I did not know what to think or expect, excitement filled me. I was ready to experience a new opportunity. Family members expressed concerns, but nothing was going to change my mind.

Despite all of the unknowns and the preparations I endured to travel to a foreign country for the first time, the experience seemed normal. Then, one particular night in Egypt, everything changed for me.

Lying in my tent under the night sky in the Egyptian desert, I began to hear beautiful sounds from outside. The Egyptian workers who served as our guides sat in a circle on that starry night in Egypt. They listened to a cassette tape recording of the Islamic Culture Prayer.

The brightness of the moon and the sounds from the cassette guided me out of my tent. The experience overcame me with emotion as I listened to the prayer. To this day, it was one of the most beautiful things I ever heard.

Fr. Calabria bows in Muslim prayer at the school’s Interfaith Iftar 2022 | Photo courtesy of St. Bonaventure University

Franciscan friar gains opportunity to share his experience in Egypt

While I did not understand the language, a sense of the words emerged in my mind. I knew I must take this experience back to the United States and it stayed with me for years.

In 2003, I became a Franciscan friar and began teaching college courses. Being a friar pushed me to be the change I wanted to create in the world. It also helped me see the complementary aspects of Islamic culture and Franciscan values.

I became even more motivated to prove Islam is not terrorism, so I went deeper and deeper into my teachings. I soon realized people had more interest than I expected. One day, in a lecture class, a rugby player came to class on crutches. He always seemed to be injured or hurt in some way.

As I clicked through the presentation slides for class, the rugby player stood up on his crutches, one-legged, and completely zoned into the pictures. He stared at the photos of Islamic culture and the Arabic language. He was absolutely enthralled.

Islamic and catholic culture mix at the Interfaith Iftar 2022 | Photo courtesy of St. Bonaventure University

A bigger mission emerges for Friar teaching Islamic culture

The experience drove me to another goal – to create the Center for Arabic Studies at St. Bonaventure University in 2015. It seemed a massive moment in my life. It was as if I was taking my students through a lifetime of my own experiences.

Through all my journeys and travels, I noticed Islamic culture is expressed differently in various countries. However, there was one thing that always remained consistent: even as a non-Muslim, I could form and share deep connections with the people and the culture.

The closest friendships I ever made are with Muslim people. Some of those people are as close to me as my own family with whom I share a genetic connection.

Embracing Islamic culture may seem unusual because of American views and the intentional messaging of American media. Yet, even though barriers like this exist, I will continue to push for people to see the truth. I will share my experiences so others can see Muslim people are not dangerous.  

Translation Disclaimer

Translations provided by Orato World Media are intended to result in the end translated document being understandable in the end language. Although every effort is made to ensure our translations are accurate we cannot guarantee the translation will be without errors.

#GlobalCooperationNow

Pledge to be a #ConsciousCitizen today and demand #GlobalCooperationNow! by signing this petition. Sign Our Petition.

Chris Hamilton is from Rochester, New York and is currently a journalism student at St. Bonaventure University. A very dynamic person, Chris is the youngest of seven siblings. Writing is an outlet for him to show emotions and what he is experiencing in certain moments. At Orato, he enjoys sharing other people’s stories. Chris appreciates that every human is unique and has developed some type of strength from situations life has put them through. "It's important for me to share those stories because they matter and need to be heard," he says.