By Shahid Abdul-Karim
Rome, Italy

It was eighteen years ago when Imam W. Deen Mohammed first met Focolare Movement founder Chiara Lubich. Now 18 years later, a delegation led by Imam Talib Shareef traveled to Italy in an ongoing effort to further strengthen the bonds of interfaith dialogue. Lubich traveled to Harlem, New York in 1997 to met with Imam Mohammed and his association.

During that meeting, the two leaders established a pact, committing themselves and their followers to work for unity and peace. “This trip is about sharing and getting closer to the Focolare community, a group Imam Mohammed calls our family,” said resident Imam of the Nation’s Mosque Talib Shareef. “We’re moved by their commitment of love. We know love is dominant in Islam, but we hadn’t been really focused on it,” said Shareef. “The Imam (W. Deen Mohammed ) knew  that our connection would be important, because love is fundamental for all human life.”

According to the teachings of Islam, it is reported that Prophet Muhammad said, you will not enter paradise until you have faith and you will not have faith until you learn how to love one another. The 13 member Muslim delegation toured Lubich’s home and visited the Chiara Lubich Center, near Rocca di Papa,  which was established shortly after her death in March 2008. Imam W. Deen Mohammad died in September of the same year.

Roberto Catalano said the visit of the Muslim delegation will  continue to improve relations. “We can revive the great desire Imam Mohammed and Chiara Lubich had; the common friendship working for the good of humanity,” said Catalano, co-director for the center of interreligious dialogue of the Focolare Movement. “Your visit is crucial to continue to promote this in Washington, D.C and here in Rome.” In 1999 when Imam W. Deen Mohammed met with Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square, he asked  Pope John Paul II to bless the beautiful working relationship of he and Lubich.

Pope John Paul II agreed. In 2000, the two met again in the nation’s capital for one of the largest interfaith gatherings among Christian and Muslims. According to a report from Muslim Journal over 7,000 people attending the gathering. “I feel the hope (of our efforts) is already a reality, said Co-director for the Center of Interreligious Dialogue of the Focolare Movement Rita Mossalem. “We’ve known each other and we’re brothers and sisters; this visit gives me a very big comfort piece particularly with the world suffering, she said.

Lubich’s longtime nurse, historian and personal assistant Anna Paula Meier said the house tour would have been something Lubich would have enjoyed. “It’s a great joy to have you, becuase it’s clear we’re already walking together, said Meier, who lived with Lubich for 22 years. “For Chiara, she would have wanted this meeting to see we’re on a journey together, she said. The delegation get a chance to hear intimate stories from Meier about Lubich’s personal life up until her death. During Lubich’s last days of her life she requested to be home among close friends and family. Lubich spent 40 years of her life at the home in Rocca di Papa.She died in her bed.

Persevering the history of Imam W. Deen Mohammed is something that Abdul Rahman Shareef said should be a focus. “If we want to persevere our (W . Deen Mohammed)  knowledge, it’s important that we publish it and share, ” said resident Imam of the Tauheed Islamic Center in Wilmington,  North Carolina who traveled with the delegation. “We need to have a museum or centers  dedicated to persevering the knowledge and impact of Imam W. Deen Mohammed in the world” he said. “If we don’t share the knowledge, we’ll lose it and the best way to lose it, is to hide it.” Khafi McDowell, who also traveled with the delegation to Rome said the visit was impactful to her. “It assisted me with understanding why the Imam (W . Deen Mohammed) wanted us to meet this community, “said McDowell. “When they say love, it’s not a superficial thing, that’s the piece we’re missing as a community,” she said. McDowell believes that healing is a necessary part of the solution the  community’s growth.”They organize themselves by keeping love out front. We can’t  love one another unless we’re respecting one another, she said. “Love has to be ahead in our efforts.”