The Sunset Playhouse welcomed another packed house last Thursday night, but this time it wasn't for a musical or dramatic work.
Thursday's presentation was intended for only one purpose: To inform.
The Brookfield Elm Grove Interfaith Network (BEGIN) joined forces with the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee in order to put on the event, titled "What Do We Really Know About Islam? Answering the Difficult Questions."
Unitarian Universalist Church West minister Suzelle Lynch helped to introduce the forum, which included representatives from a number of religious communities.
"The Brookfield Elm Grove Interfaith Network, which has been in existence for 14 years, was formed in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11," Lynch said. "Representatives from the interfaith community felt that we should come together and learn together and get to know one another and that would help us build a stronger community."
Lynch was joined in opening proceedings by city of Oak Creek Mayor Steve Scaffidi, who served as Thursday's moderator.
Scaffidi noted that he has taken part in a number of interfaith informational events following the 2012 shooting at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek.
"This is a tremendous opportunity to have a really good discussion and learn some wisdom about how all of us can work better together and live better together," Scaffidi said. "I'm very proud to be the moderator."
Featured speakers included Rabbi Jacob Herber, spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid in Glendale, the Rev. Dr. John R. Walton, Jr., senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, and Rahul Dubey, representing the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek and the Sikh Religious Society of Wisconsin in Brookfield.
Together, the trio took turns at the podium relating their own religious experiences to that of the negative feelings that many Muslims have been having to endure related to recent events.
"I am astonished, bewildered, deeply troubled and saddened that we have to have a program like this," Herber said. "My people, for millenia, have been the targets and the victims of persecution and near genocide. That's a lot that can be learned from my peoples' experience. There's far too much hatred and violence in our world. It's up to all of us to change that reality."
Two Muslim speakers also were featured at last week's event, including Janan Najeeb, founder and current president of the Milwaukee Muslim Women's Coalition in Greenfield, and Imam Noman Hussain from the Islamic Society of Milwaukee West in Brookfield.
Earlier this month, Najeeb became the first Muslim to lead the Wisconsin State Assembly in prayer prior to the start of a legislative session.
"As a nation, unfortunately, we have had a history of intolerance against many people," Najeeb said. "The Muslims are really kind of the new kids on the block."
Najeeb noted a study that showed the importance of education and building bridges between people of other faiths.
"A Pew Research study after 9/11 said that the more knowledgeable and educated individuals are about Islam, the more likely they were to have a positive view of Islam," Najeeb said. "If they personally knew Muslims, they overwhelmingly had a positive view of Islam."
Hussain spoke particularly about ISIS and the negative connotations that it has created for Muslims around the world.
"What ISIS has done, it has taken verses (from the Quran) and worked or twisted its interpretation so that it could fall in line with their political agenda," Hussain said. "It's not the interpretation of the text that's driving the brutality, it's the brutality that is driving the interpretation of the Islamic text. Is there anything Islamic about ISIS? No."
Both Muslim speakers used their time at the podium to encourage those in attendance to establish positive relationships with Muslims in order to learn more, and potentially move past certain stereotypes.
"We build bridges by becoming informed, by getting our information from various sources," Najeeb said. "I'm sorry, if Fox News is your source, you need to get out more. We have to meet the people that we have been taught to fear."
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