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