Thursday, April 26, 2012
Interfaith symposium in Allen dispels rumors surrounding religion
Representatives from the Jewish, Christian, Hindu and Muslim faiths spoke at the women-only event.
Women from all walks of life converged on the Baitul Ikraam Mosque in Allen on Sunday for an interfaith symposium. The objective of the event was to bring women of all faiths together to engage in meaningful dialogues and create a mutual understanding of one another's beliefs, said Saima Sheikh, media secretary for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Women's Association, Dallas chapter, which coordinated the event.
"The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has been involved in interfaith dialogue since its inception in 1889," Sheikh said. "We believe that interfaith dialogue is the best way for us to focus on the similarities between different faiths instead of focusing on the differences."
Representatives from the Jewish, Christian, Hindu and Muslim faiths spoke at the women-only event, including Mercy Abraham of Plano, who spoke about the common misconceptions surrounding Christianity. Abraham, who is a member of River of Glory church, was eager to share her knowledge of her faith with other women on Sunday and said the symposium was extremely beneficial to those in attendance.
"Even though with different religions and language, our moral values are the same," she said. "I felt at home because of their hospitality. A lot of people came up to me and said they felt what I shared [with them] was from heart and they were touched."
Despite its wide dissemination worldwide, Abraham said there are still certain aspects about Christianity that go unnoticed or ignored; such elements, she said, are integral for truly understanding what Christianity is all about.
"They don't understand about [the] Trinity and how God can have a son," Abraham said. "Some things with our minds we cannot comprehend so we have to ask God to give us the revelation, open our eyes of understanding and then it is very simple. When we mix flour, eggs and milk, how can we separate that? That's how God showed me about the Trinity."
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA has been active in raising awareness about Islam on a national level, Sheikh said. In 2010, for example, the religious sect launched a "Muslims for Peace" campaign with the goal of demonstrating that Muslims stand for peace. A year later, it launched the "Muslims for Loyalty" campaign to raise awareness of a community of Muslims who actively preach and practice the universal teaching of Islam that its adherents have a religious duty to be loyal to their country of residence. At the local level, the Dallas chapter also serves food at and raises funds for homeless shelters, volunteers at schools, participates in the "Meals on Wheels" and "Adopt-a-Highway" programs, Sheikh said.
Still, Sheikh said perhaps the biggest misconception many have with Islam revolves around just one word: jihad.
"The media highlights the extremists' views about Islam on jihad, shariah, hijab and Muslim women in general," Sheikh said. "The root of the Arabic word jihad means 'to strive,' and it has been metaphorically applied to fighting in the cause of religion. This is the incorrect interpretation of this word."
Islam is not the only religion whose believers feel their faith has been misrepresented in the media and within the community.
The Sri Ganesha Temple was built in 2006 to serve the growing Hindu population in Plano. According to a March 12, 2006 story in Hinduism Today, the Hindu population in Collin County at that time was close to 10,000.
"The need was there. There was a common goal, preserve and promote the values, ideals, culture and philosophy of Hinduism," stated Giridhara Gopal, a member of the working committee for the temple, in the article. "The decision was easy. It was decided to build a Hindu place of worship."
Nikita Hattangady of McKinney represented local Hinduism at the symposium and said she wished more people would take the time to learn about Hindu beliefs before making assumptions. With four Hindu temples in Plano today and many other temples in surrounding areas, Hattangady said the population continues to grow, as she estimated there are probably around 80,000 Hindus living in the DFW area.
"The biggest misconception about Hinduism is that it is a polytheistic religion. It is not," Hattangady said. "We believe in one god that we refer to as Brahman. We do however, worship many forms of Brahman. Some of the most well known are are Vishnu, Brahma, Shiva, Krishna, Rama and Ganesha. I believe that the people reporting are generally not highly educated on the subject matter. It would also help to broadcast positive stories about religious groups."
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