Kansas Organization Strives
to Build Bridges
By Huma Khan
members Mahnaz Shabbir and Sheila Sonnenschein with
Dr. Akbar Ahmed
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
“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.
Hussain Haideri presents award to Mary Sanchez
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,”
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
Peace: Diane Hershberger, executive director of Harmony/NCCJ,
a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving race relations
and increasing appreciation for cultural diversity and eliminating
Humanitarian: Gary Morsch, founder of Heart to Heart International,
a relief and development organization specializing in worldwide
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