Sharing the faith in the River Wards

In­ter­faith gath­er­ings aim to bring to­geth­er com­munity mem­bers of dif­fer­ent re­li­gions to see bey­ond ste­reo­types.

From the Qur­an to the Bible: Res­id­ents listen as Sayy­id Atiq Ebady, Rev. Shawn Hyska and Rev. Noah Help­er talk about faith from vari­ous re­li­gious stand­points at Fri­day’s in­ter­faith gath­er­ing. MARY ELIZA­BETH SUL­LI­VAN / STAR PHOTO

By Melissa Komar

Dif­fer­ences in re­li­gion and faith brought a group of people to­geth­er at the Im­am Mahdi Cen­ter on a bit­ter cold Fri­day even­ing to share a meal.

Sayy­id Atiq Ebady, the lead­er of the IMC, star­ted in­ter­faith gath­er­ings a few months ago.

The third event held last Fri­day fo­cused on the top­ic “The Role of Reas­on­ing in Faith.”

People of all faiths are in­vited to the gath­er­ings to have a dona­tion-based din­ner and dis­cuss vari­ous top­ics that the faith lead­ers find rel­ev­ant.

The event serves as an or­gan­ized “ex­change of know­ledge” in­clud­ing sim­il­ar and dif­fer­ent con­cepts and be­liefs amongst re­li­gions.

“We’ve seen that there’s a need for it,” Ebady ex­plained. “In a so­ci­ety like Amer­ica, which is beau­ti­ful that all dif­fer­ent faiths are able to co­ex­ist, even though we co­ex­ist, we still might have mis­con­cep­tions about one an­oth­er.”

Ebady stressed that it is not just Is­lam that is be­ing mis­rep­res­en­ted or un­der­stood, but all re­li­gions.

“Even out­side of the cur­rent cli­mate of our coun­try, these events are needed as a way neigh­bors can come to­geth­er. Es­pe­cially with our cur­rent cli­mate of our coun­try, where groups are pit­ted against one an­oth­er, mostly due to lack of know­ledge,” ad­ded Rev. Shawn Hyska, pas-tor at First Pres-by-teri-an Church in Kens-ing-ton. “As­sump­tions are made be­cause of either how they look, or what they be­lieve.”

“There are lots of ele­phants in the room that people don’t know about,” Ebady con­tin­ued. “If we were edu­cated about each oth­er, not only would we see how sim­il­ar we are, but there are either a lot of awk­ward situ­ations or undo bad situ­ations that could be aver­ted if we were edu­cated about each oth­er.”

At­tendees are free to ask ques­tions to the faith lead­ers on the pan­el and each oth­er, so that they can have a fur­ther un­der­stand­ing. The or­gan­izers just ask that ques­tions or de­bates be “con­duc­ted with ci­vil­ity and cour­tesy.”

Pre­vi­ous events have had up­wards of 50 people, com­ing from Phil­adelphia and New Jer­sey, to at­tend the dis­cus­sion, which be­gin around 7 p.m. every Fri­day night at the old church in Kens­ing­ton. The dis­cus­sions last for as long as at­tendees would like them to. At the last event, the group dis­cussed un­til close to 10 p.m.

“After Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion, some of the loc­al pas­tors and neigh­bors came and reached out to us and we’ve had some events with them,” Ebady said.

Ebady also reached out to loc­al churches to en­cour­age in­volve­ment with the in­ter­faith gath­er­ings.

Ac­cord­ing to Ebady, so far, the loc­al com­munity has been re­cept­ive and in­ter­ested in get­ting in­volved.

The third gath­er­ing fea­tured read­ings from the Qur­an and the Bible, and Hyska and Rev. Noah Hepler, pas-tor at the Evan-gel-ic-al Luth­er-an Church of the Atone-ment par­ti­cip­ated as pan­el­ists and led the dis­cus­sion with Ebady.

Dis­cus­sion top­ics ranged from the evol­u­tion story, to sci­ence versus re­li­gion, and to the defin­i­tion of “faith” in both Is­lam and Chris­tian­ity.

“In our cur­rent times where people are di­vided based on ideo­logy, polit­ics, and of course re­li­gion, this is a great op­por­tun­ity for people to gath­er to listen to each oth­er and learn,” Hyska said.

Both Hyska and Ebady stressed that these gath­er­ings are not meant to “con­vert” any­one, but in­stead they are hop­ing people will want to just learn and listen to each oth­er.

“It’s a way to just un­der­stand our broth­ers and sis­ters, and what they be­lieve and why they be­lieve it,” Hyska said.

The faith lead­ers also brain­stormed 15 to 20 top­ics they will in­tro­duce at later gath­er­ings.

“The top­ics that we choose are de­signed to be an is­sue that is com­mon to both re­li­gions, and is fun­da­ment­al to both re­li­gions, and is rel­ev­ant to the audi­ence,” Ebady said.

A pre­vi­ous dis­cus­sion top­ic fo­cused on the re­la­tion­ship between man and God. Both Is­lam and Chris­tian­ity teach about what this re­la­tion­ship should look like, and al­though there are dif­fer­ences, Ebady and the group real­ized that the teach­ings between the re­li­gions are strik­ingly sim­il­ar.

“Our goal is to give faith lead­ers a space to teach, to openly ex­plain their re­li­gion,” Ebady said.

When it comes to dis­cus­sion top­ics, the group plans to keep everything as fun­da­ment­al and ba­sic as pos­sible. Ebady has found that a ma­jor­ity of the things that people don’t un­der­stand are the most ba­sic ele­ments.

“We just want to spread true in­form­a­tion,” he said.

For more in­form­a­tion about the In­ter­faith gath­er­ings, com­munity mem­bers are en­cour­aged to vis­it the “IMC Philly” Face­book page.

You can reach Melissa Komar at