Church reaches out to other faiths

First there was a Seventh-day Adventist chaplain. Then a Muslim imam. Then a Jewish rabbi. In an effort to get to know their neighbors, All Saints Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Midland is hosting a series of inter-religious presentations. They’re planning next for a Hindu priest.

The church’s pastor, the Rev. Leanne Simmons, Ph.D., said her congregation wants to get away from “sound-bite theology” by hearing from actual people who practice faiths other than theirs.

In Columbus, this level of inter-faith dialogue is rare. Soon after 9/11, some members of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities came together to build a Habitat house for a Muslim family. In recent months, Columbus State University has hosted panel discussions of local religious leaders, representing the major faiths.

At All Saints, the first presenter was Pablo Perez Maisonet, a U.S. Army chaplain at Fort Benning who’s a Seventh-day Adventist. Then Imam Dawud Salahuddin Bin Pearson spoke after a catered dinner on Sept. 25; and Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin of Temple Israel (Reform) talked about Judaism the afternoon of Oct. 10.

“We are looking for more in-depth knowledge,” Simmons said. “One of our elders found Imam Dawud and I asked him if he would come. We want to keep exploring. How can you love your neighbor if you don’t know your neighbor?”

The greatest attendance of the three so far — nearly 60 people — came the night of the imam’s presentation.

Pearson and about 10 others from his mosque attended. On South Lumpkin Road, it’s called Masjid Bin Mas’ud. Columbus has two other mosques, in addition to a branch of the Nation of Islam.

At All Saints, a spaghetti dinner preceded Pearson’s Power Point presentation. Pearson spoke for about 90 minutes. Five men and a child sat near him. A few Muslim women sat at a back table. Pearson’s wife, who was among them, wears a “niqab.” It’s a veil that covers everything but her eyes. They’ve been married about a year. The imam has a son from a previous marriage who’s a contractor in Iraq.

In order to talk at the church, Pearson received permission from a Saudi Arabian scholar, Shaykh Khalid Ar-Raddaadee.

At first, the imam gave prayers in Arabic then translated. He was American Baptist before converting to Islam as a 35-year old. For 10 years prior, he didn’t declare any particular faith.

In his talk, Pearson outlined basic differences between Christianity and Islam. Among his points:

Ÿ Muslims believe Jesus was one of the prophets, a messenger, and that he was not the one crucified on the cross;

Ÿ Allah is the only God worthy of worship;

Ÿ In Islam, there are no intermediaries or helpers;

Ÿ In Islam, “gins” are unseen spirits;

Ÿ “Akhirah” is the term for the next life.

“The true Muslim knows this life is just obedience,” he said. “This life is work and the next life is reward and no work, just enjoyment.”

Allah did not have a son, the imam said. “There is no union between God and Jesus. The concept of the Trinity is blasphemous.”

In the question period that followed, one man asked about Sharia law, which is getting press in this country. Many fear that this form of Islamic law is coming to America.

Pearson said “there’s no reality to it,” adding that the U.S. seems to be busy enough with sustaining democracy.

Pearson also condemned acts of violence and terrorism among people in his faith.

He believes tensions arise “because of ignorance. We (Muslims) laugh. We love, we eat, we breathe.”

In an interview with the Ledger-Enquirer a few days after his presentation, Pearson said he felt comfortable talking at All Saints and found the people warm and open.

Simmons said she and her members are “hoping for greater understanding and see past stereotypes — to dispel myths and enhance dialogue.

“At the end of the day, we’re still Presbyterian and you’re still the People of the Book,” she said to Pearson. “But we didn’t hurt each other by hearing each other.”

Separate from this event: A forum and film, “Come Meet a Muslim,” is 6 p.m. Wednesday in the main auditorium of the Columbus Public Library. It will feature a documentary, “The Muslims I Know,” as well as a panel of local followers of Islam: Farhad AliFarhani, an engineer with the City of Columbus; Azra Khan, a pharmacist; Yahya Islam, a local imam and businessman; Sherry AliFarhani, an Information Technology Specialist at Troy University; and Nizam Khan, a teacher. For more information about this event, call 706-315-0162.

Allison Kennedy, reporter, can be reached at 706-576-6237.