Stillwater News Press

November 20, 2009

Interfaith dinner builds bridges

Chelcey Adami

Guests tasted the possibility of peaceful existence between people of different faiths on Oklahoma State University campus Wednesday evening.

The seventh annual Interfaith Dialog and Friendship Dinner at OSU brought various leaders in academia, faith organizations and government together to discuss this topic over a meal, one of the most basic forms of daily human interaction.

OSU finance professor and Institute of Interfaith Dialog volunteer Bilal Ertuk said dinners like this are “meant to enhance the awareness and understanding that we live in a society where left to right, we see people of different cultures ... Diversity has become a reality of our lives.”

Ertuk said that assembling people of different faiths at a table enables people to meet on a common ground to discuss how people of different religions can live harmoniously.

The dinner’s theme, “Celebrating Democracy as a Key to Living Together,” was explored by each speaker, including keynote speaker OSU President Burns Hargis.

Hargis emphasized that the world’s major religions all have the same basic principles: all people are equal, there is one superior God, no one is above God and people have a duty to each other.

“Democracy enables us to interact with different religions peacefully,” Hargis said.

University of Oklahoma religous studies professor and guest speaker Barbara Boyd feels that increased interaction and dialogue between people of different religions can dispel prejudice, particularly against Muslims in Oklahoma.

“I’ve watched walls of prejudice crumble as people put a face to the Muslim person,” she said. “You don’t sweep your differences under the rug. You speak about your differences.”

At the end of the evening, the Institute for Interfaith Dialog presented Sen. Jim Halligan with the IID leadership award and presented Rep. Lee Denney with the IID community service award.

“What you’re trying to do here is right on target,” Halligan said. “What this institute is about and doing is what I perceive is God’s work.”

Through use of conferences, panels, symposia, interfaith dinners and cultural exchange trips, the Institute of Interfaith Dialog aims to eliminate or reduce false stereotypes, prejudices and unjustified fears through direct human communications, according to their website.

IID began in 2002 and is headquartered in Houston with branch offices in five states.

Find more information about the organization at www.interfaithdialog.com.