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Interfaith Dinner seeks to build understanding

November 12, 2010

By KELLY DANIELS
citybeat@bellsouth.net

Mississippi State students could always use more exposure to people of different cultures, provost and executive vice president Jerome A. Gilbert said Tuesday.
“With a lack of education, people fill in the blanks,” he explained.
Every year, Gilbert tells the Mississippi State University faculty that they have a great responsibility to expose students to new languages, nationalities, ideas, religions, politics, and issues impacting the world.
Speaking to a crowd of MSU faculty and students and Starkville residents at a banquet hosted and sponsored by the Institute of Interfaith Dialog, Gilbert discussed how people of different of faiths are more alike than they are different, while those differences should be embraced.
“How can we expect people to know no other culture than their own and not be ethnocentric?” he said.
The U.S. population is nearly 80 percent Christian, while 14 percent belong to no organized religion, according to surveys of church attendance.
Jews make up 1.3 percent with Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus all claiming the remaining .5 percent.
“Religion is a necessary and natural consequence of being human,” Dr. Gilbert continued.
Turkey, where the IID originated, is 98 percent Muslim, but generates many organizations dedicated to spreading harmony throughout the world by educating other cultures on peace-centered philosophies and people of the Muslim faith.
It is through communication and intercultural, inter-religious dialog that the world will become more peaceful, members of the IID believe.
“The solution is dialog,” president of MSU’s IID chapter Mehmet Soyer said.
Participants at Tuesday’s banquet did just that while hearing prayers from leaders of local churches, mosques and synagogues and speeches from various scholars.
Adele Crudeen, director of MSU’s social work program, traveled to Turkey with members of the IID on its annual trip.
“Turkey is a large and diverse country and includes areas that are heavily populated and very modern as well as areas that are remote, sparsely populated and with very limited recourses,” she said.
“It is particularly among these areas that the potential for radicalism is very high. I visited tutoring centers and schools where the very act of educating young people made the facility, its staff and their families potential targets of violence from radical groups. Yet I met persons who were dedicated to providing an education to the children there in an effort to promote peace and understanding and to prevent potential radicalization of these young people.”
Crudden addressed the current media trends that associate Islam with violence, which she said does not represent the Muslim faith or people at large, while the IID advocates messages of peace, understanding, respect and communication for and with other people and other faiths.
Beginning in 2002, the group was inspired by teachings of Muhammed Fethullah Gülen, a religious scholar who promoted interfaith dialog among “people of the book,” or people of faith, and condemned terrorism and intolerance.
Gülen’s “Pearls of Wisdom,” often repeated among IID members and other groups inspired by him, embrace love beyond tolerance: “Only those who overflow with love will build the happy and enlightened world of the future. Their lips smiling with love, their hearts brimming with love, their eyes radiating love and the most tender human feelings-such are the heroes of love who always receive messages of love from the rising and setting of the sun and from the flickering light of the stars.”
Mayor Parker Wiseman discussed inter-religious conflicts out of the world, despite the loving principles upon which religions were founded.
“How we get bitterness and violence out of love is confusing,” he said. “And it starts with a lack of communication.”
The result of dialog among people of various cultures, however, is naturally the ability to empathize, Wiseman added.
With its attempts to generate more empathy and less conflict, members of IID host similar dinners and functions throughout the country while inviting U.S. citizens to explore Turkey and its people.
For more information, visit: http://www.interfaithdialog.org.

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