Two faiths, one common base – an anti-debate in Utah
In February of this year, Emerald Hills Institute hosted a Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable event at the City Library in Salt Lake City, Utah – “Two Faiths, One Common Base: LDS + Islam”. Utah State hosts the worldwide headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – commonly known as the Mormons or LDS – and boasts a rapidly growing Muslim population.
“We like it here,” one past president of the Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake told me. “As a young Christian faith in the US, Mormons have seen more than their share of persecution in the media and politically, similar to how we are treated now. That’s why they settled this area – to flee the hatred and misunderstanding of their neighbors. I feel that out of many Christian denominations, they have a significant appreciation for what we’re going through.”
This particular event, played out in front of a filled auditorium, was not a debate in any sense of the term – rather it was a discussion between friends; the common base is the fact that both faiths grow from the legacy of Father Abraham.
George Cannon, a lifelong member of the LDS Christian faith and a native of Salt Lake, is not an LDS “General Authority” or official church representative, but holds a Masters degree and is experienced in international business. Ayse Durmus, who holds a Masters degree in education, is experienced in teaching English as a second language in a number of countries around the world, and is a lifelong Muslim originally from Turkey.
“This is not an academic presentation” Mr. Cannon said at the beginning of his remarks, “but rather a conversation”. Later he told me “Ayse and I felt strongly that having this be a scholarly presentation was really the wrong way to go.”
Although Mr. Cannon is on a religious volunteer board he is not an official representative of the LDS Church, but is “just an ordinary member”. And likewise, although Mrs. Durmus actively volunteers in her congregation she is also “just an ordinary Muslim”, and is not an official representative of Islam. Mrs. Durmus and Mr. Cannon described how their mutual respect and friendship grew over the weeks as they were preparing the presentation, and they wanted the audience to feel some of that camaraderie.
It was easy to see they had become friends.
During the discussion, there were times when both Mrs. Durmus and Mr. Cannon became Ayse and George, teasing each other and helping each to clarify responses to questions. And they did not shy away from differences, either, but showed their mutual respect as these were also discussed.
“I enjoy a good debate” one attendee told me, “but this was fun to see. It’s obvious they’re friends.” This observation was shared by many, an audience made up of a diverse collection of people from all walks of life.
Another attendee, a young woman named Gachi originally from Chad and raised in Egypt, took the time to share her thoughts about the event. “I’m always interested in learning about other religions, cultures and/or traditions,” she told me. “I think by learning about each other we can combat any hatred and fear. It was informative and interesting.”
I asked if she felt events like this are important in society today. She expressed concern that mainstream media and politicians occasionally emphasize fears we have of those who are different, and when that happens “I think it is very important that everyone take the time to learn about other people’s beliefs. When we educate ourselves, it will be much easier to have mutual respect, openness and trust.”
After the event, I asked several other people if they felt this kind of discussion was worthwhile. “Absolutely!” came the resounding response. Everyone I spoke with made very similar observations to miss Gachi – in a world where the media thrives on feeding messages of discord and divisiveness, we all need to take the time to listen and understand each other.
“Many people are afraid” one attendee put it, “and only understanding can drive out fear.”
Andrew Kosorok is a traditionally trained stained glass artist, who has also studied traditional bookbinding techniques. In addition to commissioned studio work, designing, building, and restoring stained glass windows, Andrew work with sculptural stained glass. He enjoys looking for opportunities to explore dialogs of pluralism and shared community. —> View all posts