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By BARBARA KARKABI and KRISTINA HERRNDOBLER
Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle
A Sikh and a Muslim who sat down for dinner at a Jewish home Thursday night agreed on what drew them to the gathering.
“In my vocabulary, there is no such thing as coincidence. We are here for a reason,” Bindu Malhotra, the Sikh, said of the interfaith dinner.
“I feel God is making all this happen,” agreed Nasru Rupani, an Ismaili Muslim who said he wanted to give a face to Islam.
The two were among more than 800 Houstonians to attend Amazing Faiths Dinner Dialogues held simultaneously at 73 homes around the city.
Their host, Ann Nunes, was delighted with the religious diversity of the nine guests at her Meyerland-area home. “I just feel it’s important for all of us to know and appreciate each other and how much wisdom and beauty we all have to offer,” she said.
At the first dinner dialogue in January, 20 homes hosted more than 200 Houstonians of various faiths. In addition to growing locally, the program has expanded to a handful of homes in San Antonio, Dallas and Brenham. Sponsors, including the Boniuk Center for the Study and Advancement of Religious Tolerance at Rice University, Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston and the Houston mayor’s office, hope the program spreads around the United States and eventually to other countries.
Rupani became the face of Islam for the Rev. Mark Downs, pastor of Heights Presbyterian Church.
“It’s one thing to learn about Islam and another thing to meet a Muslim,” said Downs, who grew up in Alvin but recently moved to Houston from Chattanooga, Tenn.
Munawar Choudry, a Pakistani-born Muslim, said his desire to clear up misconceptions about his religion made him eager to host a dinner in his North Houston home.
“It is the political disputes that are creating problems, not the faith itself,” he said of Islam. “The Quran always tells us to treat people with respect and dignity. Nowhere does it say to kill people.”
During the dinners, guests picked questions from a deck of cards and answered based on their personal beliefs. Other participants listened, and were requested not to challenge responses.
Among Thursday’s questions was, “At times people question their faith. Have you ever questioned your faith or experienced a significant turning point in your beliefs?”
Kathy Glenney, the only agnostic at Choudry’s house, drew a question asking if she ever felt guided by God or a higher power. “Many times I have felt directed by a higher power, but not what I call God,” Glenney said. “Every time I give back, I get more. That is astounding to me. I don’t think we invented that.”
Cynthia Davis, a non-denominational Christian, moderated the dinner at Choudry’s house. She said she had recently felt called by God to move beyond her comfort zone in the African-American community.
The point of the evening, she said, was not intellectual learning, but “to really get to know each other.”
“It’s all personal,” Nunes said, adding that the answers all come from “one’s own life and thought … ”