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July 22, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, July 22, 2005

Discussion finds common ground between Christians, Muslims Discussion finds common ground between Christians, Muslims (July 22, 2005)

By Katie Vaughn

In an effort to promote understanding and tolerance and to combat stereotypes, local representatives of Muslim and Christian faiths held a discussion forum at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts.

An audience of nearly 200 packed the center Monday night to hear presentations by Tahir Anwar, an imam and director of religious services at the South Bay Islamic Association, and Margaret Rogers, a Christian Science practitioner, teacher and lecturer. Both speakers of the event, which was dubbed "Common Ground," noted that their presentations and discussion would not dwell too much on the doctrines of their respective religions.

Anwar, who was born in England but grew up in San Jose, explained the five basic tenets of Islam: faith, prayer, charity, fasting and pilgrimage. He shared humorous stories -- such as when he was forced to pray in a Macy's dressing room -- as well as the anger he encountered after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

He stressed the difference between the majority of Muslims and the few extremists who become terrorists. In fact, he said, terrorism lies in opposition to basic Islamic principles.

"Truly, they don't represent us," Anwar said.

The overwhelming message of Anwar's -- and later Rogers' -- presentation was that humans are more alike than different, even in religious beliefs. The similarities, he said, should allow all people to coexist peacefully.

"All in all, inside we're human beings," Anwar said. "We're worshipping the same God."

Rogers echoed that notion in her speech. The Northern California native said that while Christianity, Islam and other religions may seem different, the dissimilarities are more perceived than real.

"We should seek to understand the core of all religions," Rogers said. "At the core is loving God and showing that in our love for others."

An hour-long question-and-answer session followed the presentations. Many members of the predominately older audience wanted to know more about the Koran and Islam in general. They asked for the Islamic definitions of "jihad" and "infidel," and why most Americans don't hear mainstream Muslims speak out against terrorism.

Anwar answered that the Islamic community has spoken out, but that most Americans don't hear the message. "We've done it in every form and manner," he said. "It's not our fault that the media doesn't cover it well."

Rogers and Anwar closed the forum with prayers. Afterward, roughly a third of the audience remained, further discussing the topics or waiting to speak with the presenters.

Isaiah Sage, an 18-year-old from Santa Clara, attended the forum with his parents. He said such events are always helpful in promoting tolerance. However, his father, who asked not to be named, questioned the decision to have a Christian Science practitioner represent Christianity, a religion with many denominations. He also wondered whether the event were big enough to have an impact.

"I think visibility is important. You need to see people as people," he said. "But the people here tonight are probably already on that wavelength."

But during her presentation, Rogers said that simply sharing knowledge on different religions differences is worthwhile.

"The remedy is not killing people," Rogers said. "How does that end ignorance? The remedy is knowledge."

E-mail Katie Vaughn at [email protected]

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