Celebrating Diverse Faiths

Hundreds break pita together at student-run, peace-themed interfaith dinner.

May 08, 2010

By Menachem Wecker

“Patience,” observed the 13th-century Persian poet Rumi, “expands your capacity to love and to feel peace.”

It’s easy to find great quotes about peace from Rumi, and sophomore Behnam Ben Taleblu, director of multi-religious affairs at the GW Student Association, could not resist.

In his introduction at GW’s eighth annual Interfaith Dinner, which featured a vegetarian kosher and halal menu of stuffed grape leaves, falafel, hummus, tabbouleh and pita, Mr. Taleblu added his own commentary based on the dinner’s theme of peace. “Peace, whether you accept its virtue or not, has played a guiding role in the development of all religions and seeks to instill a form of harmony, a form of light, a form of love and, more importantly, patience,” he said.

Mr. Taleblu was one of several speakers at the dinner at the Marvin Center Grand Ballroom, which drew about 300 participants by student Michael Garber’s count. Mr. Garber, a senior, is the founder of GW Interfaith Action, a student organization which, according to its Facebook profile, facilitates religious collaboration, discussion and education.

In his remarks, GW President Steven Knapp said he was excited to attend his third Interfaith Dinner and celebrate the “diverse faiths” at GW. When George Washington laid out his vision for a university in the nation’s capital, his primary focus was not education for education’s sake but encouraging “open discussion” between people with different points of view, Dr. Knapp said.

“We are a globalized version of the university that George Washington envisioned,” he said.

Dr. Knapp also cited the Nobel Committee’s recent decision to award President Barack Obama a Nobel Peace Prize as an indication that peace is being considered in broad terms like fighting poverty and pursuing justice. The Interfaith Dinner is “building peace on a foundation of mutual understanding and respect,” he said, defining peace as “human flourishing in all its dimensions.”

According to Mr. Garber – who founded Interfaith Action two years ago with help from a former rabbi at GW Hillel and representatives of the GW Muslim Students’ Association and the Newman Catholic Student Center – Washington in general and GW in particular are hubs for interfaith exchange.

“There are so many different people of so many different cultures that there is really a lot of diverse ways of approaching dialogue here,” he said. “With people from 130 countries at GW, as President Knapp just said in his remarks, there are incredible opportunities to learn about other people.”

Shahrokh Ahmadi, an assistant professor in GW’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, joined some of his students at the event. Sophomore Zahir Baig, general secretary at the Muslim Students’ Association and an engineering student, read a passage from the Koran at the event. “Of course, there are a lot of engineers everywhere,” Mr. Ahmadi said with a laugh.

“I usually don’t go to any religious programs, but I do go to this one because I really enjoy it, because I think this is the meaning of religion – to bring people together,” he said. “If the whole world was like this, it would be a much better world. We can start from GW and expand to the whole world.”

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