From left, Cengiz Zopluoglu, executive director, Niagara Foundation of Minnesota; Dr. Sherif Soydan, president, Niagara Foundation; Keynote speakers Rev. Dr. Gilbert Friend-Jones; Holly Brod Farber, and Dr. Azam Nizamuddin; and Kairat Sabyrov, president, Bosphorus Dialogue Association. (AAP staff photo by Tom LaVenture)
By TOM LAVENTURE
AAP staff writer
ST. PAUL (February 23, 2011) – The Bosphorous Dialogue Association and Niagara Foundation of Minnesota held its Dinner of Abrahamic Traditions last week at the North Star Ballroom of the University of Minnesota – St. Paul Campus.
The event draws speakers and guests from diverse backgrounds and leaders of churches, mosques, and synagogues as well as community and businesses. It is a unique opportunity for members of the Christian, Islamic, and Jewish faiths to celebrate their shared roots and traditions derived from their common ancestor, the Prophet Abraham.
The theme of this third annual event, “Abrahamic Traditions: “Strengthening The Family Life Today, Resources and Wisdoms Within the Abrahamic Traditions.”
“Strengthening the Family Life Today: Resources and Wisdoms Within The Abrahamic Traditions” brought together leaders of various faith communities, and guests that included State Sen. Sandy Pappas (DFL-65) and Saint Paul Police Chief Thomas Smith. The Rev. Shane Isner of Plymouth Creek Christian Church offered the prayer.
Jamilla Kosobayashi served as master of ceremonies. She was present with her spouse Amin. She said the event is a way for the community to embrace common virtues and strengthen family life today by learning about each other from one another.
Welcoming remarks were delivered by Dr. Sherif Soydan, President of Niagara Foundation.
Dr Soydan spoke about the unanticipated promise and potential of the Niagara foundation work, which started in 1997 as an informal activity of various Turkish American communities with the ideal of promoting peace in society. The organization now has 22 chapters in 9 states.
This eventually established the Niagara Foundation to continue expanding on the basic tenants of all faiths – love your neighbor as you would yourself – and with a charitable belief that whoever should sleep on a full stomach while their neighbor goes hungry is surely not one of us.
He said the goal of the evening dinner was to emphasis together the commonalities and the differences – without an understanding that issues discussed in an atmosphere of trust are much like how families handle difficulties.
The Keynote speakers included Holly Brod Farber, Director of the Speaker’s Bureau of the Jewish Community Relations Council; Rev. Dr. Gilbert Friend-Jones, Senior Minister at First Congregational Church, Crystal Lake, Ill; and Dr. Azam Nizamuddin, Esq., Adjunct Professor of Loyola University.
Farber said that like her parents, she must work hard to maintain a traditional Jewish home in a place without a large Jewish community. She said maintaining the Shabbat – seventh day of the Jewish week –requires preparation to ensure her family is reflecting on the importance of taking care of one’s self and family and together with the universal ideals of taking care of the world.
“We do all this knowing that we live in a confusing and ambiguous world,” she said. “I strive to be a good person, a good mother, daughter, sister, friend, neighbor, colleague and community member.”
She perseveres because she believes in a wise tradition that is both ancient and relevant in our own time. She has confidence that by understanding our own limitations and knowing we cannot do it all alone and need to look at what we have in common with each other.
Her message was to “value the question as much as the answer, the journey as much as the destination.” She values a tradition and heritage as a precious inheritance.
Dr. Friend-Jones is a West Virginia native, who earned his doctorate at Howard Univeristy Diviintiy School and has published two books.
“In an age of violent warfare and partisan strife, it is important for us to share at the table of fellowship,” he said.
Friend-Jones said the family is a place of intimacy and great vulnerability. He said the family environment is one of loving, trusting and accepting one another, with honesty, nurturing, humor, and communicating through difficulties. He said this instills faith in one another regardless circumstances
The image of the patriarchal family is reshaped from the Victorian era and emphasized that good moral and ethical behavior come from the golden rule and that comes from spending time with one another.
For Christians today the family unit is has many configurations including people who are married, single, heterosexual and homosexual, having children or not, natural or adopted, and many circumstanced of traditional and nontraditional settings. He said this is no different that what is found in the bible and it’s all about the lens we use to understand the message.
He emphasized the importance of understanding why belief this higher being must supercede even the family when you consider the alternative is a tendency to become exclusive and self-justifying which leads to the honor codes that exist today.
Dr. Nizamuddin is an attorney who also teaches courses on Islamic theology around the nation. He also said the issue of family is a comprehensive topic given the changes and evolution of idea of family.
In Islamic tradition he said the starting point of such a discussion begins with the ideal with the family as central to living a good life within two elements of monotheism and the notion of an afterlife.
He went on to explain the building blocks of ethical beliefs and laws of right conduct, to follow, exist and function to preserve. He expanded on the Five Noble Goals of Islamic Law: to preserve life, intellect, faith, lineage and property.
With the idea of creator, omnipotent provider, final arbiter of justice and loving of all things, he said expressing what God is addressed in both the material world and the divine realm.
“The noblest in the eyes of God are those with the best conduct,” he said. ‘This position entails responsibility of duty to God and to one another as fellow human beings.”
He said the second attribute of the merciful and loving God shows that the component of love cannot exist without mercy to those deserve it and also to those undeserving.
Concluding remarks were delivered by Gail Anderson, Director of Unity and Relationships for the Minnesota Council of Churches, who runs the Taking Heart program designed to bring Christian and Muslim communities closer together. Her newest project, Taking Roots, is designed to facilitate interfaith understand and to welcome and assist refugees that come to Minnesota without any connections to the community.
Kairat Sabyrov offered closing remarks as President of the Bosphorous Dialogue Association. The Kyrgyzstan native is also a Doctoral candidate of Chemistry at the U of MN.
The Niagara Foundation of Minnesota is located at 2812 Anthony Lane S., St Anthony, MN 55418. Find out more at niagarafoundation.org/minnesota and www.tc.umn.edu/~bda.