Interfaith Iftar Dinner Draws 500

The Pakistani American Alliance for Compassion and Education (PACE) hosted an interfaith Iftar dinner on July 9 to break the daily fast during the month of Ramadan. The event, which drew more than 500 people of many different faiths, was held at Second Presbyterian Church.

This Iftar dinner has become an annual event that the Pakistani Islamic community uses to build bridges with other faith communities in Louisville. The event began at 8 with a series of speakers, and dinner was served after sunset.

Dr. Muhammad Babar, a leader in PACE, explained to the crowd that the dinner is a celebration of Ramadan and it “reminds us that our main duty is to serve humanity.” He drew a clear line between the peace-loving majority of Muslims the violent extremists like the Taliban and ISIS. He concluded his remarks with a quote from the Trappist Monk Thomas Merton, telling the gathering that your faces are shining like the sun – we belong to each other.

Mayor Greg Fischer spoke briefly about Louisville’s momentum as a city of compassion and love and the richness our diversity brings to our culture. The first step, he said is to learn about our differences; the second is to accept those differences; and the third is to go beyond those differences to make a difference. “We all have the same God,” he said, “but we serve him differently.” And as Muhammad Ali said, all people are part of one family.

Representing Louisville’s Islamic Community, Dr. Kiarash Jahed’s comments followed in the same vein. He told the story of the some of the earliest followers of the Prophet Muhammad who were heavily persecuted in Mecca. They sought refuge from the king of Abyssinia. The king asked what they believe and the Muslims replied, Muhammad taught us to worship one God, to be good to our neighbors, prayer, charity, to care for others, to seek good and to move from darkness toward light. After talking for a while, the king realized there was no difference between them and welcomed them.

“You cannot have interfaith harmony,” Jahed concluded, “unless you can look at someone not of the same faith as you and say honestly, that is my people.”

Rabbi Joe Rooks Rapport of The Temple shared Rabbi Nachman of Breslov’s Song of the Grass, that says every shepherd and each blade of grass has its own song and God’s song is heard over all. But the greatest song is the harmony created with all the songs together. “We can be other and the same at once,” he said.

The keynote speaker of the evening was Father James Channan, a Catholic priest who serves as director of the Peace Center of the Dominican Order in Pakistan. He told the story of a Pakistani Christian couple. The wife was accused of burning some pages from the Koran and a local imam issued a fatwa ordering that the couple be killed for blasphemy. Channan reported that 2,000 people turned out to carry out the fatwa and when it was done, only the couple’s ashes remained.

Word of this killing reached Dr. Babar and it grieved him. The Louisville physician contacted Father Channan with an offer to sponsor the couple’s children. With Dr. Babar’s help, Father Channan purchased a house for the children, and funds are available to provide the opportunity for them to become doctors.

“Louisville is a compassionate city,” Father Channan said, “and I’m sure the rest of the world can learn from Louisville.” He also expressed hope that one day his city and Louisville can be sister cities.

He also described some of the intolerance he sees in his own country. In Pakistan, 96 percent of the population is Muslim, he said, and most of them want to live in peace. A small number of terrorists make this very difficult.

On July 19, Father Channan received the Ambassador of Global Peace Award from a United Nations organization.

The Rev. Susan EngPoole, the interim director of Interfaith Paths to Peace, led an interfaith blessing before the meal and Dr. Syed Khader presented the call to evening prayer before breaking the Ramadan fast. Those Muslims who wanted to pray before eating were able to do so in a separate room.
The dinner was catered by Jarfi’s Catering.

PACE is an outgrowth of the Association of American Physicians of Pakistani Descent (APPKI). APPKI, a group with membership of physicians and their families only) started the Iftar dinner five years ago. As this dinner’s popularity grew, PACE was established to enable members of Louisville’s Pakistani community who are not physicians to participate in hosting the event.

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