Building Bridges with Interfaith Relations

Duston Barto

On September 13, Masjid Ar-Razaaq hosted their annual interfaith banquet in conjunction with Mecklenburg Ministries. During this event, the gathered community of people was able to hear a brilliant keynote address by Imam Omar Shaheed from As-Salaam Islamic Center in Colombia, South Carolina. Following his keynote address, each religious leader from Baha’i, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jewish and Christian backgrounds (among others) were able to get up in turn and talk about misconceptions that people have regarding their religion and to answer questions.  All of these events helped the community of Charlotte to blend closer together to find unity in our diversity.

In attendance were:

Rev. Danny Trapp of Myers Park Presbyterian Church (Executive Director of Mecklenburg Ministries)

Imam John Ramadan of Masjid Ar-Razzaq (President of the Board of Directors of Mecklenburg Ministries)

Minister Corey Mohammed of the Nation of Islam

Swam, a Hindu priest

Rabbi Jonathan Freirich from Temple Beth El.

Kathleen Carpenter, the director of religious education at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte Arroyo Campbell, chairman of the Spiritual Assemble of the Baha’is

Pushpinder Garcha, associate director of the United Sikhs

Rev. Cassandra Jones, head of the department of New Life Theological Seminary

Imam Nadeem Faizi from the Ahmadiyya community.

Dhammaloka Sudhamma, also known as Ayya, founder of Charlotte’s Buddhist Vihara

Imam John Ramadan, host of the event, remarked “Now where have you all seen this much diversity in one time? Only God can do this. We can’t do it on our own but only God can do it…. Let me tell you something, you got to have a certain mentality to sit down with this many people in its most diversity. But what it’s doing is telling you that the direction people are calling in all that narrow-mindedness: ‘if you don’t go this way, you’re going to go to hell’ and all this stuff; forget about it! Why should I forget about it? Because you don’t have enough information to judge anybody! We judge on the premise of the bad that somebody does. God is aware of everything that exists in the entire creation at any time so He looks at the good that we do also.”

Keynote Speaker Imam Omar Shaheed was very open about the blockages in his own mind toward interfaith when he was younger “…when I went to the Nation of Islam in 1971, I was angry with the white race and I was angry with Christianity. I was angry with the white race because of its social hypocrisy. I was angry because I came back from overseas with my naval uniform on and I went straight to the front door in this restaurant I told them I wanted burger, French fries and milkshake. She said, “I can’t serve you. “ I said, “Lady, I’m a sailor.” She said, “That’s a sailor uniform but you’re a Negro.” That was in 1968. So I was angry with the social hypocrisy and I became angry with the Christian church because all I saw were white angels, white Last Supper, everybody in there were white and I was angry. I told my mother I’m leaving the church but I’m not leaving God. She said, “Son, I can understand you’re not leaving God because God is everywhere.” I said, “Well, I’m leaving.” Then I ran into the point where we called the white men the devil. I said, “On man; that feels good!” The Klan was doing no better, so out of anger, I accepted a lot of that until I started reading the book. The imam said, “You gotta read this book, the Holy Qur’an.” The Qur’an says, “Oh people, we created you from one soul.” None of us was made from a different make. All of us were made from the same human essence. So instead of me looking up to people, I started looking at people in the eye. Instead of me looking down at people, I started looking at people in the eye because all of us have the same human essence. But you can be angry and accept some ideas and concepts out of anger, that’s not what the Scripture is saying and I think this is what we all have to check. Then I have to go back to the white race and apologize. I said, “I bought that you were racist devils but I’ve come to find out that we all came from the same soul. We’re one people, one humanity; we’re one big family having dialogue, talking to each other, building bridges.”

Many people believe that interfaith means that one must sacrifice his or her own convictions, nothing could be further from the truth as interfaith allows us to gain tolerance and respect for one another even though we may disagree with the way that someone else worships.  For instance, I will never tell you that I believe Hinduism is the right way of life or that we should all become Buddhists or that we should pray like the Presbyterians pray. However, I respect that because Allah (SWT) has commanded us that there is no coercion in religion that I can tolerate the diversity in my community and love my Hindu, Buddhist and Presbyterian neighbors without having to sacrifice my Islam to do so.  In fact, we know that if Allah willed, everyone would be Muslim.  The fact that there is diversity among the faiths should tell us that Allah wishes for us to understand why people choose different paths and to find the unions that we may have with one another.

Building Bridges with Interfaith RelationsCharlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe receives Masjid Ar-Razzaq’s 2014 Humanitarian Award. “The interfaith community within Charlotte is strong. Your voice is very, very powerful, not only within your organizations but the message you send out to others in order to follow. So I encourage you to continue your work. Continue your collaboration with one another thereby not just reaching one segment of our community but all of our people. Every faith, every religion, every belief should hear your voice and understand the meaning of that voice. So on behalf of me and also on behalf of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, I thank you for this opportunity and I thank you for this award.” – Chief Rodney Monroe

Building Bridges with Interfaith RelationsMinister Corey Muhammad from the Nation of Islam addressed misconceptions about the Nation of Islam and expressed a deep desire from the Nation of Islam to break down the misconception that the Nation is anti-religious or that they are not actually Muslims. The dialog of hate is being purged from the dialog of the Nation of Islam and Minister Louis Farrakhan has been introducing more of the Sunnah into the teachings of the Nation.

Building Bridges with Interfaith RelationsImam John Ramadan introduces Rev Danny Trapp, “We always submit to the truth and our further desire is to make Mecklenburg Ministries a beautiful organization that brings people together. Prophet Muhammad said this, “You’ll never know a man until you work with him.” You see a lot of times, we judge what the heart is from the outside but when you start working with a man and you see those sensitivities coming out him, Danny, you’re alright, man.”

Building Bridges with Interfaith Relations“Why is it that we hold on to labels? … I see universal principles in all our religion. A respect for humanity, a respect for community, a respect for a better life for our children; I’m seeing that. Building Bridges. The first thing we have to continue to do is have genuine and authentic dialogue then we have to move from talking to working together, to doing things together.” – Imam Omar Shaheed

Building Bridges with Interfaith Relations“The Buddha denied being a god. He was not a god; he was a human being who trained his mind. He was a spiritual genius. He trained his mind understanding the fundamental functioning of mental habits to where he eradicated any structure of mental behavior that could cause any further suffering and then he taught others how to do it. The path that he gave us is an extraordinary spiritual path of how we train our behavior in order to train the mind, behavior of body, behavior of speech and mental action as well. The spiritual path of Buddhism opens in front of us moment by moment.” Ayya talks about the misconception that Buddhists believe Buddha is a god

How can we bring people into interfaith that are antagonistic? Arroyo Campbell, representative of the Baha’i faith responded: “… If you believe that we are all spiritual beings like I do, and I think everyone on the panel does, that means as spiritual beings, we are extremely powerful when we are plugged into our Creator. So when we get together and when we take on any kind of an endeavor, what it does, that collective togetherness creates such attraction and become such a magnet that it will pull to itself more and more of those people who also feel the same. It just grows and grows and grows and it gathers momentum.”

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