Kansas Organization Strives to Build Bridges
By Huma Khan

 


Board members Mahnaz Shabbir and Sheila Sonnenschein with Dr. Akbar Ahmed

Overland Park, Kan. “ Building bridges between various faiths was the theme of the night at the Eid dinner held on November 5 by Crescent Peace Society, a nonprofit organization established to enhance the understanding of Muslim cultures in Kansas City, MO.
“We are living in a world where we must understand each other,” said keynote speaker Professor Akbar Ahmed, chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, DC. “Friendship changes everything. If there is friendship, the hatred will melt,” he added.
Crescent Peace Society, which was founded in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, celebrated ten years of existence and working with the community to promote a positive image of Islam. About 350 people of all faiths and ethnicities attended the groundbreaking event where Dr. Ahmed spoke about the importance of interfaith dialogue.
Echoing the mission of the Society, Dr. Ahmed highlighted the need to understand Islam and all its facets.
“Islam is the one world civilization the population of which is increasing,” he told the audience. “You can’t ignore 1.4 billion people, 57 states and one nuclear bomb.” Understanding Islam is necessary; it is not a luxury, it is not an academic exercise, it’s an urgent action you must take.
Dr. Ahmed, who recently returned from a study tour of Islamic countries, explained differences between three models of Muslims: the mystic sufi; Deoband, which is the orthodox, more formal and literal explanation that considers Islam to be under siege; and the Aligarh model, which believes in balancing modernity and tradition. For Dr. Ahmed, Muhammed Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan, was the symbol of the Aligarh model, a visionary of an open, democratic society.
Dr. Ahmed encouraged the audience to learn about the sufi and Aligarh models, which are often overshadowed by the more fundamental Deobandi ideology. He also reiterated the need to understand Islam in the context of globalization.


Dr. Hussain Haideri presents award to Mary Sanchez

“We need to be sensitive about definitions because sometimes they lead us to the wrong premise,” he said. “If your premise is wrong, your conclusions are wrong,” he added.
The key to building bridges is initiating and continuing an open dialogue between Muslims and other faiths, encouraging religious leaders to explore the Muslim world and finding common ground. “I believe it is imperative for people of good will and good faith on both sides to bridge this gap,” Dr. Ahmed said. “This is the time when the leaders of this world need to show wisdom, vision and compassion,” he added.
The Crescent Peace Society dinner was attended by notable community leaders, including Missouri Councilman Alvin Brooks; Mayor of Leawood, Peggy Dunn; Kansas City Star Faith Reporter, Vern Barnett; Kansas City Star vice president and columnist, Lewis Diuguid; Kansas City Star Minority Affairs Reporter and City Columnist, Mary Sanchez; among others.
“If each one of us stepped outside our own faith, there is great possibility we could transform this era,” said Councilman Brooks. “Unless this dream is shared, it will die of lack of substance everywhere. This dream must be saved by all.”
Leawood Mayor Dunn stressed the importance of appreciating and respecting different faiths, and encouraged the audience to strongly pursue interfaith dialogue.
The evening ended with a riveting performance by Feryal Gohar, a Pakistani actress and political economist. Khali Kamrah, a solo performance written and directed by Ms. Gohar, highlighted the plight of victims of domestic violence.
Crescent Peace Society presented awards to several community members:
Peace: Diane Hershberger, executive director of Harmony/NCCJ, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving race relations and increasing appreciation for cultural diversity and eliminating intolerance.
Humanitarian: Gary Morsch, founder of Heart to Heart International, a relief and development organization specializing in worldwide humanitarian assistance.
Journalism: Mary Sanchez, Kansas City Star Minority Affairs Reporter and City Columnist.
Education: Abdalla Idris Ali, director of the Center for Islamic Education in North America.
Community Service: Hallmark Cards Inc.
Business: India Emporium


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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