Speaker gives personal perspective on Catholicism and Islam Print
Around the Diocese
Written by Mary C. Uhler, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020 -- 12:00 AM

Fariba Roughead
Fariba Roughead, center, is pictured with her friends Koena and Eric Schiedermayer at her recent presentation in Madison. She is the godmother to the Schiedermayers' oldest child and they are godparents to her youngest child. (Catholic Herald photo/Mary C. Uhler)

MADISON -- Fariba Roughead discussed a topic that is "really near and dear to my heart" in a recent presentation at Holy Name Heights in Madison.

Fariba talked about "Interfaith Dialogue: A Personal Perspective on Catholicism and Islam."

A native of Iran and now a U.S. citizen, she told the story of her conversion from Islam to Catholicism. Throughout her talk, she emphasized the importance of dialogue with those of other faiths.

Fariba noted that she is not a theologian, but she discussed from her personal perspective some of the beliefs that Islam and Catholicism share and how they differ.

She was introduced by Eric Schiedermayer, director of the Diocesan Curia and vice chancellor of the Diocese of Madison. He and his wife, Koena, became friends with Fariba when they all lived in Georgia.

"She's a great friend," said Eric. "She is the godmother of our oldest child, and we're godparents to her youngest child."

Importance of dialogue

Why is it important for dialogue between those of Islam and Catholic beliefs?

Fariba noted that over half of the world's population is either Christians or Muslims, with Muslims numbering 24.1 percent and Christians 31.2 percent.

"For us to understand each other is important," said Fariba. "World peace depends on it."

She said that some Christians focus on the differences with Muslims, they refute interfaith dialogue, and propagate Islamophobia.

However, Fariba said that the Catholic Church acknowledges the shared beliefs with Islam and rejects nothing that is true and holy in other religions.

Promoting unity and love

She pointed to Nostra Aetate ("In Our Era"), a declaration proclaimed during Vatican II by Pope Paul VI on October 28, 1965.

In it, the Holy Father said, "In our time, when day by day mankind is being drawn closer together, and the ties between different peoples are becoming stronger, the Church examines more closely her relationship to non-Christian religions.

"In her task of promoting unity and love among men, indeed among nations, she considers above all in this declaration what men have in common and what draws them to fellowship."

Islamic faith

Fariba pointed out some key beliefs of the Islamic faith. Muslims worship the one God. They see their faith as going back to Abraham. They revere Jesus as a prophet. They honor Mary. They value moral life and worshipping God through prayer and almsgiving.

Muslims believe in heaven and hell and praying for the dead. They follow an ayatollah, a leader like the pope.

"Muslims believe God's name is mercy," she said. "Muslims invoke God's mercy 230 times a day in prayer."

She said that Pope Francis wants to sustain a dialogue with Muslims. The pope says "we need to be clear and honest in our dialogue. We must avoid the comfortable approach of saying 'yes' to everything to avoid confrontation."

Fariba noted that St. John Paul II said that interfaith dialogue is based on hope and love, not fear. "We should look at it as a positive challenge," she said.

She believes that learning about other religions helps us to grow.

Catholic faith

Fariba said that Jesus died for all of us.

Yet, she said, "As Catholics, we have the complete truth. We're the ones who should respectfully initiate dialogue. We have the responsibility to proclaim it."

When Fariba was studying the Catholic faith, she had challenges with some beliefs. She was trying to understand through reason.

However, she said, "we can't reason God and the Trinity. You have to believe by faith. Once you have faith, you can reason it."

She believes that talking about our personal relationship with God is the best way to start sharing the Good News of the Catholic faith.

"I am growing in friendship with God and growing in missionary discipleship," she said.

Fariba Roughead's conversion story

Fariba Roughead was born in Iran, the oldest of four children. There was tension between her parents: her father was conservative and her mother was more progressive. Education was important to her family. She attended an all girls' school.

She competed for a scholarship and won it, coming to Georgia in the United States as a 16-year-old in 1976. Her host family was a very loving family. She attended a small Baptist church with her host family, planting seeds for her future conversion.

Back in Iran, there was a revolution in 1979 that resulted in the toppling of the monarchy and the establishment of an Islamic republic. "The revolution changed the trajectory of my life," said Fariba, whose Iranian family had supported the shah. "Because of this, I didn't go home for 22 years," she said.

In 1981, Fariba met her future husband. He was Catholic, so they participated in Engaged Encounter, and Fariba learned about Catholic marriage. They were married in a Catholic church after obtaining a dispensation. They had three children, who were all baptized in the Catholic Church.

Fariba wanted to have the same faith as her children, so she attended Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) classes. However, she still had concerns about some Catholic beliefs, including the divinity of Christ.

In the meantime, she was experiencing abuse from her husband, who was violent with her. She was hiding his abuse from everyone. She finally called a crisis center for help. "After a long separation and divorce, I was able to get an annulment. It was healing for me," she said.

With her faith, she asked God to show her the way. "I had a dream that Jesus came to me and put his hand on my head. He said, 'Believe in me.'" The next day, on March 29, 1989, Fariba told her priest that she wanted to be baptized. Her mother came to the United States to attend her Baptism.

After her divorce, from 1995 to 2018, Fariba was a single mother and provider for her family. She has a doctorate in nutrition science and is a registered dietitian. Fariba holds a Graduate Certificate of Theology from the Augustine Institute, is a Certified Professional Coactive Coach (CPCCTM) and a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach, a speaker and retreat leader.

In 2018, she retired from her role as vice president of R&D for a global, publicly-traded organization. Fariba is the founder of Ascensia Consulting, LLC. Her coaching and life philosophy is influenced by Aristotle and St. Ignatius, who taught that God's call, our highest life purpose, is where our natural talents meet the deepest hunger in the world.

Fariba's mission is to help individuals and teams, especially those in parishes and faith-based organizations, to discover and master their God-given talents, and to skillfully unleash their potential by leaning into their gifts, to transform their lives, and thus glorify God.

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