We can see beauty in traditions of others

Daily News (Bowling Green, KY)

We can see beauty in traditions of others

Rev. Peter Connolly, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bowling Green
Published: May 20, 2011


There is nothing more inspiring to me than when people of good faith, serious about their religious traditions and full of good will, meet to share their visions of what is right, what is holy and what is sufficient to establish peace. So it was with a sense of joy and gratitude that I welcomed to our sanctuary on May 12 members and representatives of the Islamic Center of Bowling Green.

The event was billed as an interfaith colloquium, an opportunity, primarily, for local Muslims to present the tenets of their faith to a room full of people hungry for more knowledge and full of pressing questions. As a seminary-trained minister, of course, I have had some training in Islam and other world religions, but even I learned quite a bit from the evening.There is a danger that any of us may be so devoted to our particular religious tradition that we might fail to honor the value that other traditions bring to the lives of their adherents. And it may be that too literal an interpretation of whatever may be our Scriptures may blind us to the poetry that is in them. An evening such as this helps us see the beauty that may lie in the traditions of others.The evening was organized by Jennifer Gonzalez, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church.

She was so moved by a presentation that she had heard earlier in the year by Dr. Scott Girdner of Western Kentucky University that she felt sponsoring a colloquium such as this would allow others to not just expand their horizons, but to find a way to connect with others in a more personal way. Five members of the Islamic Center served as a panel, covering such topics as “What is Islam?” and “Who are the Muslims?” We also learned about The Pillars of Islam, Articles of Faith, the Qur’an and Hadith (sayings of Muhammad), the role of women in Islam, the relationship between Islam and Christianity, historically as well as theologically, and life as a Muslim student in America.All of us were impressed with the practitioners of a religious faith who take the time to pray five times a day, every day. What discipline and devotion! Dr. Morsi Nagy, a local medical doctor and frequent spokesman for the Islamic Center, pointed out what should be obvious, but perhaps we don’t often think of it: If someone is spending time five times a day in their worship of God and surrendering of one’s own will to the will of God, it is highly unlikely that they will be committing acts of violence or deception at other times – their lives of devotion shape their character.

One astute question was: “If Islam is a holy religion, how do some Muslims justify acts of terror?” The answer was that, though there may be some sections of the Qur’an (the holy book) that might seem to justify a violent act, if you look at them in context, you will see them differently. It was also pointed out that the scriptures of other religions are not defined by their most contentious passages; those passages are understood within a larger, loving message. It was good to hear some of the women of Islam explain that when they wear a head covering, it is their choice, a choice made from devotion rather than submission to the will of men. And it was inspiring to hear Muslims speak so convincingly of their love for their religion and their conviction that it makes them better, more valuable citizens in the society.

Our ceremonial welcome that evening went as follows:This is a house that welcomes Islam; this is a house that welcomes those who follow the teachings of the Torah; this is a house that welcomes those who follow the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth; this is a house that welcomes all those who sincerely follow their desire to find meaning and purpose in the lives that they lead.We hope that this will not be the last opportunity that our church has to foster dialogue and good will among the good people of Bowling Green, no matter what their religious convictions.

Shalom, Salaam and blessings of peace to all.—

The Rev. Peter Connolly is minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bowling Green.

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