Interfaith dinner brings people of different faiths together

Breaking Ramadan fast with dates and samosas, about 160 people from a cross-section of faiths gathered at the Islamic Foundation North's Libertyville mosque to gain a greater understanding and respect for each other's religions.

The interfaith “iftar,” or fast-breaking meal, is a tradition Islamic Foundation North, organizers said, but recent tragic events led to an even greater response this year.

“It's a sign that people care and this is the American spirit,” IFN President Vaseem Iftekhar said at Wednesday's event. “We are people of faith and everyone is welcome here.”

Christians, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists from around the area attended the event, as did Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim and his family.

“It's important in these times that we come together,” Nerheim said. “People have a tendency to use (recent events) to spread hate and fear and that's why it's important to spread instead of hate and fear, peace and knowledge.”

At one point, attendees formed small groups and were asked to talk about how their religions differ from others. Later, many said they discovered more commonalities than differences.

“With all the three major (religions), it's all the same God, just different paths,” said Cathy Bromberg, who attends Congregation Or Shalom in Vernon Hills. “If we fight the ignorance, the hate, the fear, we can fight the prejudice and provide a united front so that all our citizens can have the same rights and not live in fear.”

After a recitation of the Quran and welcome remarks by Iftekhar, Scott Alexander, associate professor of Islamic studies and director of the Catholic-Muslim Studies Program at Theological Union in Chicago, gave the keynote speech titled “A case of 'Holy Envy': Ramadan from a Christian Perspective.”

He quoted Swedish theologian Krister Stendahl and said three things need to happen for authentic interreligious life together.

“First, always let the other define herself,” Alexander said. “Empty yourself of preconceptions and let the holy presence of the other give you an understanding of who he or she actually is. Second, never compare my best with your worst. That's my Mother Teresa and you're Osama bin Laden. And third, always leave room for holy envy ... It's when you see something in the faith life of another that you deeply desire for your own faith.”

Dr. Amin Nadeem, a leader of IFN's civic engagement community, said the dinner is an annual event, but “it does not stop here.”

Representatives of churches, temples, synagogues and mosques stay connected and attend each other's programs and events to further improve relations and understanding of their diverse faiths.

“We all realize that the biggest relationship between us is humanity,” Nadeem said.

  Attendees applaud remarks made during Wednesday's interfaith dinner at Islamic Foundation North in Libertyville. Steve Lundy/
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