Last Sunday the First Church of the Nazarene in Oklahoma City hosted a forum on the subject of interfaith cooperation.
The event included a panel of individuals from different faiths that included Episcopal priest Father John Borrego, Adam Soltani, the Executive Director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American- Islamic Relations, Michael Korenblit, president and co-founder of the Respect Diversity Foundation and the child of Holocaust survivors, Dr. Hardeep Sahja, a Sikh who is an Associate Professor of Pharmaceutics at Southwestern State University, and Kelly Yates an ordained minister of the Church of the Nazarene.
Borrego told of how he developed a better understanding for the links between Christianity and Judaism when he was a graduate student at the University of Oklahoma in Jewish Studies and spoke of how both faiths mandate that we treat others with respect, and that he knows that Islam has similar requirements. He also spoke of his role as a hospice chaplain for seven years and the hostility to Islam that he has occasionally encountered in that capacity and in his role as a priest.
Adam Soltani said that Islam also requires that other faith traditions , especially Christianity and Judaism, be respected, and that he is occasionally told by others that he should “go back home”.
“No, I am not going back to Kansas”, Soltani said he often says in reply.
The CAIR executive director pointed out that there are more than 1.5 billion Muslims in the world and that the ISIS group in the Middle East constitutes a tiny percentage of that number, and that ISIS has killed more than 20,000 Muslims.
Yates told of how she has always been saddened by tales of persecution and that her ancestors fled Europe and emigrated to Canada to escape persecution. She also said that different faiths need to work together to improve the world.
Prof. Sahja related how the Sikh faith requires its adherents to be charitable to the less fortunate and to live honestly. He reminded the audience of how after the Murrah Building bombing a Sikh was attacked and killed in Tulsa by a man who thought that he was a Muslim, and that Sikhs are now reaching out to the public other faiths to explain their religion.
Michael Korenblit spoke of how as a young child in Ponca City he observed numbers tattooed on his parent’s arm and that is how he learned of the years in a concentration camp in Poland. He told of how after an elected official said that Oklahoma’s Muslims “ were a cancer” his organization stood with the state’s Islamic leaders to condemn that statement, and that the Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels used similar language about Jews.
Korenblit also said that some of the language being used by one of the Republican presidential candidates about Mexicans being “rapists” and “murderers” should cause concern.
The foundation president said that his organization condemned the attack on the Palestinian family by Israeli extremists on the West Bank that resulted in the death of several people.
All of the participants agreed that people of faith should not let their differences divide them.