Imam educates about Islam

People of different faiths gathered Thursday night in Port Huron, and there were handshakes, smiles and respect.

“When we reduce people to a single identity, that is the greatest violence we can do to people,” said Imam Achmat Salie of Rochester Hills.

Salie was invited to speak in Port Huron by a group of Blue Water Area pastors who’ve worked to restore a weekly series of luncheons and discussions on spiritual themes. The talk drew an audience of about 150 at St. John’s United Church of Christ.

Salie was upfront about his intent to confront people’s fear of Islam and to promote constructive dialogue and partnerships between Christians and Muslims.

“We must make sure that we don’t allow these extremists to define us,” he told the group.

The imam’s talk reflected the “reconciliation” theme for weekly Lenten events developed jointly by the Rev. Bill Terry, pastor of the church, and the Rev. Jim Edwards, pastor of First Congregational Church in Port Huron.

“So many things in society are separating people from people,” Terry said. “That was how we came up with the idea of reconciliation and finding connections between Christians and Muslims.

“A large part of our population really doesn’t know Muslim people,” Terry said. “The wide perception is that it’s the religion that promotes violence and terrorism, and nothing could be further from the truth, any more than Christians who act violently represent Christianity.”

“When we show people our own story, that we are able to define ourselves, it can lead to that holy understanding — and a deeper understanding of each other,” Salie said during an interview earlier Thursday.

“I like to make the analogy of white light,” he added. “When it’s refracted through a glass prism, you get all the colors of the rainbow — but it’s still the same white light. We see things with different-colored spectacles, and those colors could be our ideologies, our cultures.

“It all starts with education,” Salie said. “I believe there are not bigots out there, only ignoramuses.”

Salie told the audience, “We have a clash of symbols. We don’t have a clash of cultures,” and pointed out ways in which the Quran and Muslim tradition honor Christian traditions and Jesus himself.

Salie, a native of Cape Town, South Africa, serves mosques in Sterling Heights and with other mosques in the region through outreach programs.

Salie first came to the United States in 1998 and moved to this country permanently the next year. He is married and has four children. He teaches Islamic studies at Oakland University, a program he founded and coordinates.

For the luncheon series, people have been invited to come to the UCC church at 710 Pine St. at noon each Thursday through April 14. Those who attend future gatherings will be served a free lunch and hear an hourlong message delivered by spiritual leaders.

( / 01.04.2011)

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