Several Christians and members of the Baha'i Faith, a Sikh and a Muslim sat down together for an evening meal.
The topic of discussion for their interfaith gathering?
What else? Their faith.
Instead of tiptoeing around an often divisive topic, participants of the recent “Amazing Faiths” interfaith dinner dialogues focused on it. A project of the Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma, about nine interfaith dinner gatherings were recently held across the metro area.
The initiative was started in 2006 by the Boniuk Institute for Religious Tolerance at Rice University in Houston. The first “Amazing Faiths” dinner-dialogue gatherings in the Oklahoma City area were held in 2008.
The dinners bring together people of different faiths for a shared meal at a participant's home, followed by a conversation about faith, led by a trained facilitator.
One of the gatherings in the Edmond area brought together Sarah Albahadily, a Muslim; Terry and Keith Angier, Baha'i Faith members; Harminder Mashiana, a Sikh; Gary and Jody Smith, Baha'i Faith members; and Jim Huff, Marilyn Barragree, Linda Koenig, moderator Sherry Sullivan and her husband, Blue Clark, all Christians who said they attend several metro churches.
After dinner, Sullivan let each person randomly choose a card with a question about how their personal faith has affected their life in some way. The questions were thought-provoking and helped stir conversation after everyone had spoken.
Albahadily shared several stories about how she tries to react positively to non-Muslims who stare at her in public places. She said her hijab or Islamic head scarf makes her easily identifiable as a Muslim and many people show their curiosity about her faith by staring.
The Smiths told the group how they learned about the Baha'i Faith — not by someone trying to convert them — but by several co-workers of Jody Smith who lived in different states. The couple said they are faithful members of the Baha'i Faith Center of Edmond.
Mashiana said he experienced a time in his life where he felt disconnected from God, but he became connected with God and the Sikh faith of his family in his college years of searching for answers to the complexities of life.
When someone wondered aloud how to get people who seem against all faiths other than their own to one of the interfaith gatherings, Jim Huff shared his observations. Huff said he has had in-depth conversations with several Christians opposed to associating with people of other faiths.
He said most of them have unfortunately made their minds up long ago that interfaith mingling and friendships are to be avoided.
Sarbjit “Sabi” Singh, an Oklahoma City Sikh and Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma leaders, said the alliance was pleased with this year's gatherings.
He said counting the different Christian denominations, between 15 and 18 faith groups were represented. Each of the groups included about 12 people.
Singh said about 20 percent more people participated in the initiative.
“We're hoping to keep that up, to keep up the momentum,” he said.
Singh said the ultimate goal of the dinners is the formation of meaningful interfaith relationships.
“The idea is to let them become aware that people, though they have different faiths and beliefs, their interested in life are often the same,” he said. “Hopefully, some of them will become friends.”
He said most of the groups plan to meet again around mid-February.