Thursday, April 19, 2012

Breaking Bread Breaks Down Barriers

I’ve always believed that breaking break is a sure-fire way of helping see people different from one’s self in clearer, more realistic ways. This conviction came to life for me last weekend during a breakfast meeting I attended that was held at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Mich. Dubbed the Interfaith Breakfast, the annual affair was initially established partly in the name of world peace. Yet (and not with some measure of irony), it is held each year to host men of war.
These guests of honor are Fellows of the National Defense University (NDU) in Washington, DC, and largely consist of international high ranking military officers from countries around the world. For the last 5 years the Islamic Center of America has hosted a breakfast for them prior to their return. The NDU is the premier center for Joint Professional Military Education (JPME) and is under the direction of the United States Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. Each year the Fellows are embark on 15 trips to 20 states around the country. The purpose is to show these future world leaders the diversity of America. This year, 57 persons from 52 countries participated in the one-year, invitation-only fellowship.
The Interfaith Breakfast at America’s largest Islamic mosque rounded out the group’s visit to the Detroit area. It was preceded by a week-long visit to the area, hosted by General Motors and Ford Motor Company. The annual morning event is an opportunity for the interfaith community in the region to meet these distinguished guests and also for the military officers to see the diversity of America, in terms of cultures, religions and color. According to organizers, previous participants have found America’s diversity to be an unbelievable dream, adding that all too often Americans take their richly diverse nation for granted.
Prior to the breakfast, guests at the mosque removed their shoes to enter the building’s sanctuary where prayer is conducted. Beneath the impressive domed structure, a female facilitator led a Q&A discussion, sharing information about the mosque in particular and American Muslims in general. For instance, the group learned that like some other forms of religion, Muslim women may have leadership roles and positions, with America especially leading the way in this practice.
The keynote speaker during the actual breakfast was the local imam. In the Sunni ‘branch’ of Islam under which the people of this Dearborn mosque worship, the imam is a leader of an Islamic community. Over breakfast, the imam discussed the meeting’s theme: for people from differing places to ‘know each other.’ He also made reference to their holy book, the Koran, mentioning facts I was unaware of – like the story of Adam and Eve being within its pages, and that Jesus is mentioned more than 120 times. The imam also pointed out that the Koran devotes an entire chapter to Jesus’ birth mother, Mary.
I listened in relative astonishment at these revelations and wondered how many of my fellow Americans were aware of this information. I learned even more about Islam from the people at my table. My biggest take away from the breakfast was something I suspected all along: Muslims are like Christians in more ways than not – especially those born in the U.S., and that we share many of the same values, such as love of family, peace, and respect for others. They also love their home, America. Their biggest hope is to be judged less as a group and more as individuals. That seems a common theme these days.

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