Interfaith Dialogue Among Laity

Behind Burqa, Student Gets An Education In Bigotry
March 12, 2007, by Tracy Gordon Fox, Courant Staff Writer

COLCHESTER — Caitlin Dean was raised not to discriminate against others because of their race or religion. But as a white suburban teen of Italian and Irish descent, she often wondered what it would be like to be the target of such abuse. She found out “behind the burqa.” The 15-year-old freshman volunteered with a few other students to wear traditional Muslim clothing to school for an entire day in February after a Middle Eastern Studies teacher at Bacon Academy announced that she was looking for students to promote her class by wearing the garb. Caitlin covered her slender frame and short brown hair with a periwinkle burqa, which concealed her face.

…The hateful and abusive comments she endured that day horrified teachers, the teen and many of her classmates. …”I hope all of your people die,” one sniped. “You’re probably going to kill us all” and “Why do they let people like this in the country?” were other remarks she heard on Feb. 1. Caitlin wrote down 50 comments and names she was called. She did not respond because “I am a freshman. I like to avoid making waves.” But when she saw a friend and a teacher who knew that Caitlin was the person under the burqa, she broke down in a classroom. “I started crying,” Caitlin said. “There is way too much prejudice.” For the entire story, see:,0,3126355.story

This story reinforces recent polls which tell us that anti Islam sentiments in the US are on the rise. The good news is that the same polls also tell us that “personal relationships and interactions with Muslims are major drivers of positive attitudes” (CAIR poll 2004), and that “there is a strong relationship between personal acquaintance with a Muslim and views of Muslim Americans. Among those who say they personally know someone who is a Muslim, 74% have a positive impression of Muslim Americans, compared with only 50% of those who do not personally know any Muslims.” (Pew Forum poll 2006)

This is precisely why the work of organizations such as ING is so important. ING and its Affiliates are some of the few organizations in the country which teach about Islam and Muslims while building bridges among all Americans through civic engagement, dialogue and conversation.

Events of Note:

ING Convenes Second Spring Peninsula Interfaith Event, 3/15/07

ING held its second Peninsula Series Interfaith Event on Thursday, March 15th, from 7:00-9:30pm, at the Yaseen Foundation in Belmont. The topic of discussion was “Have Women’s Leadership Roles Changed in Religion?”, and featured a panel of women religious leaders from five faith traditions, including Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. Following Middle Eastern appetizers and the sunset prayer, the evening began with the panel presenting each of their faith’s perspectives on women, including some of their faith’s negative attitudes and practices, as well as progress in recent years. The commonalities in all faiths were striking, particularly how each had elements that could be used to oppress or denigrate women. Following the panel, the audience of 150 people had their chance to weigh in on the same topic through an hour long roundtable discussion where everyone had a chance to participate and voice their opinion. The event concluded with closing remarks and prayers by each of the panelists. Participants expressed their enthusiasm and gratitude for the event, wishing only that they had more time to learn and share.

This was the second in the series of three Spring Peninsula Interfaith Events that emphasizes interfaith dialogue among the laity. The third event will be on May 9th at the New Vision United Methodist Church in Millbrae, and will address the topic: “Is There Room for Fundamentalism in Religion?”

ING Speakers Participate in Castro Valley High’s Day of Diversity, 3/15 – 3/16/07

Three ING speakers, Amany Ghanem, Uzma Husaini, and Nora Talebi participated in Castro Valley High School’s Days of Diversity on Thursday, March 15th and Friday, March 16th, meeting hundreds of high school students. Each speaker addressed a different topic, with Nora delivering a general orientation on Islam and Muslims, Amany answering FAQ’s, and Uzma addressing the topic of Women in Islam. ING has participated in the school’s Diversity Day for several years now, and has increased the number of presentations and topics it addresses. The school has increasingly made this day central to it goal of “changing minds,” showing its students that the world around them and their community was richly colored with diverse people and ideas.

One speaker, Nora Talebi expressed her absolute joy to have participated in this event, and how wonderful it would be to have the momentum of this event spread to other schools throughout the country. Castro Valley High was the recipient of an ING award a couple years ago for its dedication to diversity awareness, and is to be congratulated for its continued policy of inclusiveness through education.

ING Trainer Delivers Educators Workshop at UCSC Extension, 3/17/07

Fouzi Husaini, long time ING speaker and trainer delivered a two hour presentation to a group of teachers in a cultural diversity class at the UC Santa Cruz extension in Sunnyvale entitled: “Educator’s Workshop: Orientation on Islam and Muslim Students.” The training included a 30 minute overview of Islam and Muslims, with the remaining hour and half for Q & A, in which he addressed specific issues affecting both Muslim students and their parents. At the conclusion of the workshop, many of the participants expressed their gratitude for the conversation which they found helpful and informative. To arrange a similar workshop in your school for faculty and staff, please contact Rania Shah at [email protected].

ING Participates in Interfaith Prayer for Peace, San Jose, 3/18/07

Yasmine Khan, ING’s Interfaith Coordinator, participated in the third annual Interfaith Peace Service at the First Unitarian Church of San Jose on Sunday, March 18. She joined representatives of several faith communities in sharing prayers for peace and reading about peace from their respective faith traditions. The program included songs, readings, and respectful moments of silence for personal reflection. Readings and prayers ranged from Unitarian Universalist to Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu, Muslim, Jain, Jewish, and other Christian traditions. Yasmine presented a poem by Rumi, entitled “Emptiness,” and focused on verses from the Quran, which speak to pluralism, describing those who are righteous and conscientious towards God and fellow human beings. The service was delightfully diverse not only in religion, but in age and racial/ethnic background. The evening was extremely inspiring and gave hope for the possibility of peace within our communities and our world.