Interfaith seminars helps bridge the gap, show community unity
BY TERRY FLORES
The most diverse representation of faiths made its presence known Sunday night in Kenosha at the oldest registered Islamic center in the state.
More than 150 people gathered at the Albanian American Islamic Center, 6001 88th Ave., for the first-of-its-kind “interfaith seminar.”
But more than a seminar, the convergence of faiths — including Christian, Jewish, Baha’i and Muslim — brought diverse members of the community to stand together. The event was co-sponsored by the center, Kenosha Young Progressives Coalition and Congregations United to Serve Humanity.
Presenters spoke about the need for diverse faiths and religions to come together amid a social and political climate wrought with uncertainty and anxiety.
Local Muslims wanted others to know they are as much a part of the country as all others who live in it.
Saad Yousuf, a volunteer at the mosque, spoke about how people in the community are not unlike the human body.
“If the parts start fighting among each other, what do you think will happen to the human body?” he said. “This human race is like the human body.
“It’s like the tree that you and I see around us. It has leaves of different sizes, different colors, different tones. There are fruits with variations in taste. Yet, we don’t single out a fruit, a leaf from the tree. It is the tree we all look at.”
Citing the Declaration of Independence, Yousuf praised the country’s forefathers for their wisdom in knowing the unity America stands for.
“That’s who we are and who we represent and how we should be represented,” he said.
Beth Hillel’s Rabbi Dena Feingold praised the Islamic Center for holding the event.
“We find strength and diversity … in working with others of like mind,” she said.
She said like those in the local Jewish congregation, the importance of standing together goes beyond just its own.
During Jewish seder meals, a central theme focuses on oppression of Jews in Egypt.
“But that message doesn’t really have endurance unless it informs how we act in the present,” she said, describing the bitter foods of the seder that recall the oppression of the past.
Feingold also described how the community supports those being oppressed now, stressing that people need to stand up and speak out when they see oppression.
“They keep coming. We keep rising up, because we Jews know the cost of silence … and we will link arms because when you come for our neighbors, you are coming for us,” she said. “And that just won’t stand.”
The Rev. Michael Mueller of Racine’s St. Andrew Lutheran Church likened the diversity of those present to the family.
“I’m delighted we’re encountering one another here,” he said. “The beauty as I look around is a rich beauty and one that is worth investing in, and strengthening.”
Quinn Keefer, a founding member of the Kenosha Young Progressives Coalition, said the community must go beyond Sunday’s gathering to continue bridging gaps with compassion “and fight with open hearts.”
“I call each of you to see and think with your hearts and let compassion defeat any and all contention you may face,” he said.
Continue the work
After the seminar, Albanian American Islamic Center president Ismail Aliji said he was pleased with the turnout, saying he hopes it spurs people to continue the work of unity.
Aliji said that often people can look at places they don’t know about as a “dark room” where everybody is scared to enter.
“We’ve had a lot of people who didn’t even know what this place is and even if it exists,” he said.
“We haven’t had anything like this before,” he said. “We’re just hoping to continue it from here on out and move forward.”