Common ground: Muslims, Christians hope to keep dialogue going

SHAFAQNA – Monthly, informal lunch gatherings are spinning off of popular public panel discussions between local Christians and Muslims, according to area faith leaders.

One such gathering already unfolded at St. Bartholomew Catholic Church in Columbus, which also hosted the most recent Muslim-Christian panel Nov. 13 before a diverse audience of about 140 people.

“Ideally, we’d like to find a busy, public lunch place where we can be very visible,” participant David Harpeneau said.

The idea is to show people that Christians and Muslims not only can grow in respect and harmony but can build true bridges of fellowship and friendship.

Harpenau was a Catholic member of a mostly Catholic-Muslim panel that began meeting regularly in 2015, a few months after St. Bartholomew Catholic Church was spray-painted with graffiti phrases taken from the Koran. From those meetings sprang a Jan. 20 public panel discussion highlighting bridge building between Christians and the Islamic Society of Columbus Indiana.

Harpenau said the latest scheduled panel chat was aimed to be “an attempt to create greater understanding of the differences and similarities between these two faith traditions.”

He mentioned that bringing issues to light more than once can be helpful to reach a larger audience.

“We often learn in very small steps,” Harpenau said. “And we often change our perceptions about others in gradual, small steps.”

David Carlson, a philosophy and religion professor at Franklin College and a frequent speaker in Columbus, spoke on interfaith bridge building, a topic he has covered a number of times locally in the past four years. The planned local monthly lunchtime gatherings are an idea borrowed from Carlson, who meets weekly with a Christian-Muslim group at Shapiro’s Deli in Indianapolis.

Carlson has been adamant, especially in the past several years, that Hoosier Muslims he has met and become friends with are peace-loving people and not to be confused with followers of a totally different, radical form of Islam highlighted via the terroristic Islamic State.

Hanna Omar, spokeswoman for the growing, local Islamic Society and one of the panelists at the most recent public discussion, said public dialogues always can be beneficial. Late in 2015, she was among local Muslims who outlined the need for more peaceful public gatherings to build added awareness between Muslims and Christians and others.

She said such gatherings especially keep Muslims from being placed on the spot about their beliefs after some act of terrorism in some other part of the country or world.

“We definitely want to have more activities with our Christian friends,” Omar said. “We also want to find out what’s most effective (in educating people).”

Hapeneau said he believes peaceful interfaith dialogue “will identify the signs of hope in our our nation and the world as people of different faiths realize our diversity is something to be celebrated.”

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