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Group seeks to strengthen bonds of religion, culture

March 28, 2002|BY TARA REILLY

Sparked by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Jews, Muslims and Christians will gather next month to promote understanding and tolerance of their faiths.

The group, called Interfaith of Washington County, will hold the conference on Thursday, April 11, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater.

The conference is sponsored by the Washington County Council of Churches, Islamic Society of Western Maryland and Congregation B'nai Abraham. It is free and open to the public.

"After Sept. 11, we saw that we had enormous gaps in the understanding of Islam," said the Rev. Don Stevenson, senior minister of Christ's Reformed Church. "We had a bogus notion that all Muslims are terrorists."

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He said any misunderstanding or misinformation about different religions, not just Islam, may cause people not familiar with those faiths to fear or be put off by them.

The interfaith group hopes the conference will strengthen cultural and religious bonds throughout Washington County.

Four members of the three faiths will make presentations about their religions and then field questions from the audience. Refreshments will be served afterward, when audience members may also chat with the panel. The group has been planning the event since Jan. 3.

Clark Lobenstine, executive director of Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, will be the panel's moderator.

Ronald L. Bowers, administrator for the state's Property Tax Assessment Appeals Board, said that in November he received from the executive director of the American Muslim Council in Washington, D.C., a letter and a booklet explaining Islam.

Bowers said he began discussing with Stevenson a possible event in which all religious denominations could celebrate their faiths together. The discussions eventually led to setting up the conference at HCC.

"I think it's another case where Washington County and Western Maryland are in the forefront of organizing events that are educational and that allow you to have a better understanding of your fellow Americans," Bowers said.

Shahab Siddiqui, of the Islamic Society of Western Maryland, said he hopes the conference also attracts those who belong to religions other than Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

"We just would like to get together with them all," Siddiqui said. "We want to show that we like each other and spread the same feeling to the community."

Rabbi Janice Garfunkel of Congregation B'nai Abraham said the education of different faiths is important, "so that we don't descend into what we've seen again and again in history - people hating other people because they're different."

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