Last Friday evening, less than a mile away from the University of Notre Dame and about two blocks from a Muslim mosque, close to 100 people gathered at Church of the Savior Christian Reformed Church in South Bend, Ind., for a discussion on Islam and America.
The evening was organized to build awareness during a time of increasing tension and with hopes to change the temper in the United States since the Paris and San Bernardino attacks.
About a third of the audience came from outside of the church. John Haas, who organized the event, said, “People were very interested and participated with questions and comments.”
The event included a panel discussion with Haas, a historian at Bethel College, Mark Noll, historian at Notre Dame, Anna Fett, a Ph.D. student at Notre Dame, and Rabia Shariff, an Indian Muslim who immigrated to the U.S. as a child.
Haas explored discrimination on the basis of religion as advanced by several presidential aspirants and how this attitude is contrary to American history and values. Noll explained the shape of global Islam and the history of Islam in the U.S. as well as discrimination in the U.S. against immigrants and distrusted ethnic and political groups.
Fett, who lived in the Middle East and worked with interfaith groups, talked about the effects of international affairs and the U.S. foreign policy on Middle Eastern Muslims. Shariff has also been involved in interfaith dialogue groups and intercultural education initiatives. She talked about her experiences as a member of a religious minority and about adjusting to America and being a Muslim in the context of post-9/11 America.
Haas said Church of the Savior seeks to develop an informed faith in its members. “We want our Muslim neighbors to know Christians are peacemakers. We also want our church members to be well informed about our American traditions of tolerance and the free exercise of religion, the rule of law, as well as our history of at times overreacting out of fear towards various minorities. We want to take seriously the application of our faith to world events and our community.”