A unique dinner party took place in Smithfield earlier this month.
Muslims in Johnston and Wayne counties invited their neighbors of other faiths to a traditional meal in attempt to build bridges.
With recent events in the news and the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, many non-Muslims have misconceptions about the religion of Islam, Muslims say.
This event was intended to erase those misconceptions and to bring Christians and Muslims together to talk about how they can live in harmony.
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Qasim Siddiqui, imam of a mosque in Goldsboro, said he wanted to hold the dinner to “clear the clouds” of negative thinking.
“There are some bad people that do some things wrong,” he said. “But the majority of Muslims believe in love, tolerance, patience and respect.”
He said he will hold more dinners and meetings to spread this important message.
Siddiqui moved to the United States in 2012 from India to learn about other religions. Since then, he has spoken at many churches, synagogues and interfaith meetings.
Asked if he experiences any negative treatment in America because of his religion, he said no.
“I think many Americans here are lovely people, and they respect us,” Siddiqui said. “When I talk about religion, they respect me and listen carefully. Americans are really good people with good hearts. They always support me and are ready to help people.”
About 140 people, half Muslim and half Christian or other faiths, attended the dinner.
Siddiqui spoke first, followed by George Braswell, a Campbell University professor of world religions and director of the university’s World Religions and Global Cultures Center.
In 1968, Braswell began teaching world religion at a Muslim seminary in Iran. He shared with the group stories of his five years there and the great conversations he had with Muslims. He discovered they were very similar to himself.
“We can read all the books we want about interfaith business,” Braswell said, “but it’s all about the eyes and ears and the heart.”
Organizers of the dinner said they were nervous the turnout would be low because of recent shootings, but were pleased to see a packed room at the Smithfield Recreation and Aquatics Center.
Muslims and Christians ate, talked and laughed together. The dinner even resulted in some new friendships.