An interfaith gathering at a church in St. Anthony brought Muslims and Christians together to promote tolerance and peace.
An interfaith gathering at a St. Anthony church Sunday encouraged Christians and Muslims to learn as much as possible about the two faiths and tolerate their differences.
Over 200 people participated at the event at Nativity Lutheran Church where two Christian and two Muslim speakers highlighted the commonalities between their faiths.
Members of Nativity, Faith United Methodist Church and St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in St. Anthony organized the event after several residents made anti-Islamic comments at a recent City Council meeting, where city officials rejected a proposed Islamic center.
Bob Foster, a member of St. Charles Borromeo parish, told Sunday's session that both faiths are monotheistic, emphasize charitable giving and strive for peace.
"That's what we should be focusing on here, how we're the same, and not how we're different" Foster said. "People are being so polarized in our society... only concerned with their own ideas, with their own politics, with their own religion, that they don't do this. They don't listen to other people's beliefs and grow and learn from those beliefs."
Following the talks, attendees broke up into smaller groups at tables where Muslims and Christians interacted directly with each other, learning more about how their faiths inform their everyday lives. For some at the event, it was the first one-on-one encounter with a person of the opposite faith, organizers said.
Last month, St. Anthony City Council members voted against plans to locate an Islamic center in the basement of the former Medtronic headquarters off Old Hwy. 8. They argued that the proposed 15,000-square-foot Abu-Huraira Islamic Center was incompatible with the building's light industrial zoning.
A number of residents told the council that the Muslim center was not welcome in the community. Some made disparaging remarks about the Muslim faith; at least one resident said Islam is "evil" and embraces violence.
The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations later asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate allegations of anti-Muslim bias in the rejection of the proposed Islamic center and officials have said they are "looking into the matter."
Abdisalam Adam, a Somali cultural community specialist and teacher for the St. Paul school system, was one of the Muslim speakers Sunday. He highlighted the historical ties between Christianity and Islam, also noting similarities between them.
Before Sunday's meeting, Adam said he believed St. Anthony residents who made the anti-Islamic comments at the City Council meeting probably have not interacted very much directly with Muslims, or they wouldn't have made the remarks.
Adam says in general he's found people in Minnesota to be very welcoming and tolerant in the 16 years he's lived here.
"For the most part, it's been overwhelmingly positive," he said. "These comments are the exception and not the rule."
Rose French • 612-673-4352