Putting focus on common threads

Muslim and Christian religion leaders in Columbus will meet with the public in an effort to increase understanding about common values.

“Just Faith: An Open Christian and Muslim Dialogue of Peace and Common Values” will unfold at 6:15 p.m. Jan. 20 in the upstairs meeting room of the Columbus Area Visitors Center, 506 Fifth St.

The free event is an outgrowth of a 16-member Christian-Muslim group that began meeting a year ago, shortly after three local Christian churches were spray-painted with graffiti including Islamic messages. Fourteen group members completed a study of common histories, faiths and values, and began a lifelong friendship and commitment to peace, according to organizers.

The group has included Christian clergy and also worship leaders from the 150-member Islamic Society of Columbus Indiana. Society members said recently they want to share with area residents their views on Islam as a peaceful religion.

Dialogue members say they wish to answer questions related to interfaith common values, aspirations, dreams and goals of peace. A reception will begin at 5:30 p.m. The actual presentation portion of the program will last about an hour, followed by a question-and-answer session from 7:15 to 8:30 p.m.

Jan Banister, a member of the dialogue group since it began, said members have become close in empathy and understanding. She also said members learned that the best way to discover another’s beliefs is through firsthand interaction.

“In anything, you can’t really rely on what someone else has read or heard was said,” Banister said. “You have to hear it and read it for yourself.”

Zulkifly Yusuf, a former president of the Islamic Society of Columbus, Indiana, and other society members said last month that mass killings in Paris and in San Bernardino, California, late last year had nothing to do with Islam although those claiming responsibility were affiliated with a militant Islamic State group.

“It gives us (as Muslims) that much more reason to engage with others here in the local community about what we’re about,” Yusuf said.

Hanna Omar, a spokesperson for the local Islamic society, has seen how sharing aspects of her faith in college classes and elsewhere has built understanding in the past.

“I think being quiet (about beliefs) can be detrimental,” Omar said. “If we keep quiet, it gives more power to those taking religious beliefs completely out of context. And we need to take that power away from them.”

Finding common ground

What: “Just Faith: An Open Christian and Muslim Dialogue of Peace and Common Values,” featuring members of a 16-member Christian-Muslim dialogue group that includes members of the Islamic Society of Columbus Indiana.

When: Reception at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 20. Presentation at 6:15 p.m. Question-and-answer session from 7:15 to 8:30 p.m.

Where: Upstairs meeting room of the Columbus Area Visitors Center, 506 Fifth St.

Admission: Free

Author photo
Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.