Crossing bridges with a message of peace
Fostering a spirit of togetherness and mutual understanding is an overarching aim of a day of events that will involve Muslims, Christians and other social groups this Saturday.
Visiting Imam Azhar Haneef hopes that misconceptions about Islam and the Holy Qur’an can be dispelled and a positive atmosphere of cooperation created at the faith-based symposium on ‘Social Peace’, which is open to all.
“When people come to these type of events they hear other voices. They recognise that there is goodness on the other side,” said Mr Haneef.
Different faith and social groups will look at the issues of persecution and discrimination against religious minorities and ways to promote social peace and harmony.
There will also be an exhibition of the Holy Qur’an during the day of activities at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute.
Shabnam Jheengoor, of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Bermuda, which has organised the events, said: “Everybody has been very positive, working together and cooperating. Everyone has been encouraging. We went people to hear the positive message of Islam. We have many charities and churches on the Island and we want to welcome all people to come together and put away any differences.”
The Holy Qu’ran exhibition starts at 11am, and Mr Haneef said he hoped this would help give a clearer understanding of the true nature of the scripture as opposed to confused and sometimes wrong assumptions.
“The confusion has to be corrected by Muslims,” said Mr Haneef. He said media stories often link Islam and the Qur’an with terror attacks and “ghastly scenes from the Middle East”. He explained: “The western media has picked up on hot button issues without giving the reader the full scope of what a passage or chapter from the Qur’an says.”
He hopes the exhibition will go someway towards educating people and giving them the full context of the scripture to show that it does not deny human rights nor does it promote violence. He pointed out that the Qur’an allows the right for anyone to believe or not to believe, and added: “We want people to hear what is truly written in the scripture before they judge it.”
To assist with this, he is accompanied by fellow American Hafiz Mubarak Kukoy who knows the scripture by heart and will give recitations.
Amnesty International Bermuda is collaborating on a presentation titled ‘Persecution and discrimination against religious minorities’, which takes place between 2.30pm and 3.30pm at BUEI.
“This is an issue, where you see one group attempting to deny the rights of another,” said Mr Haneef, who is the vice-president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the US. He noted that it is an issue that goes beyond Islam and Christianity, but encompasses other religions.
“We see this intolerance to people of other faiths and even sects within a faith.”
Even the Prophet Mohammad was once denied the right to profess his faith, said Mr Haneef. “We want to share that history with Muslims who may not have been aware of it. The people in power control the narrative. They may change the story to fit their agenda. We feel that has happened in the Muslim world.”
The final event of the day is a ‘Social Peace’ faith-based seminar, which starts at 4pm. The event is a collaboration that also involves the Anglican Church and Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda (CURB).
Rev Anthony Pettit, of St Paul’s Church, will be one of the speakers, as will Dr Kim Dismont-Robinson, folklife officer with the Department of Community an Cultural Affairs. There will be representatives of Bermuda’s young people. CURB president Cordell Riley is acting as facilitator.
Mr Haneef believes that when various groups and faiths “cross bridges” and come together they can achieve more than if they act alone.
“ We want it to be in a positive environment where we can share our original sources. Not looking to prove we are better than anyone else. We are looking for the common goodness,” he said.
“We are hoping it reaches out to the common man who has not heard this message. That you can come together and learn and work together for the common good. It’s not about competition between religions or groups, it is about complementing one another.”
Everyone is welcome to attend the three events. Mr Haneef said he encouraged others to come along and get to know Muslims on a personal level.
He said the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was “founded to bring the peaceful message of Islam to all people.”
He added: “I’m part of that mission, going around delivering the message. It has raised some eyebrows because Muslims and churches and social groups have come together. The other people and organisations involved have been supportive. They have networked and been very helpful. This is a positive.”
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