By Kevin Urgiles, Kristy Gerlett and Joseph Ryder
Professor Faroque Khan slips out of his black dress shoes and shoves them to the front of a nine-story wooden shoe case with a light tap.
His shoes sit next to leather boots, sandals and running shoes on top of a forest green carpet that spreads to the entrance of the mosque where he will address people of Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh faith, who have also left their shoes behind complying with the Muslim tradition.
The Islamic Center of Long Island (ICLI) opened its Interfaith Institute in Westbury Sunday afternoon with hopes of creating a center rich in religious tolerance that advocates interfaith harmony, Khan, co-founder of the Islamic Center, said.
“There are many paths to the Creator,” Khan said. “Each religion has their own rituals, rules and regulations, but the ultimate destination is the same so we focus on the commonalities.”
Nearly 200 people registered to attend the event, Khan said. Many of them had donated money in the past towards the opening of the interfaith institute, but no money was fundraised on Saturday.
“Fundraising is always a challenge, but just as much as you would expect it to be for any center,” Dr. Isma Chaudhry, President of the ICLI, said. “We do not have problems thanks to the support of the Muslim community and many others at large.”
One of the institute’s largest goals is to establish programs with neighboring school districts such as Westbury, Jericho and Hicksville, to promote interfaith initiatives among students, most of which are of Christian or Jewish faith, Chaudhry, said. The programs will include conferences, seminars, essay contests and group visits.
“Reaching kids before their stereotypes are hardened in their minds and in their hearts is a good thing to do.” Tom Goodhue, executive director of Long Island Council of Churches said, “ It’s easier to change the minds of middle school students than middle aged adults.”
Teaching children about the commonalities of religious communities is a primary goal of the Interfaith Institute due to the rise of religious intolerance in the United States that is a result of the news industry and extreme actions by terror groups such as ISIS, Dr. Unni Mooppan, a trustee of the Interfaith Institute said.
“There are a lot of misconceptions,” said Mooppan. “It is important to have interfaith meetings, otherwise we are left with mass media and the extremists.”
There are twelve different faiths groups on Long Island, Khan said. These include Islam, Christianity, Baha’i, Buddhist, Hindus, the Jewish, Native Americans, Sikhs, Unitarian Universalists, Yoga and more. The number of groups will not be a problem, Rabbi Ben Herman of the Jericho Jewish Center said.
“We are all one.” Rabbi Ben Herman of the Jericho Jewish Center said. “Our unity and what keeps us together is much more important than what would divide us.”
An interfaith institution is important in establishing religious tolerance in a diverse community such as the one found on Long Island because it allows for the members of these different groups to interact in a more personal way, Mehnaz Afridi, the Director of Holocaust, Genocide, and Interfaith Education Center at Manhattan College, said.
“An interfaith center can only be successful if it brings a critique and tools for education and living amongst diverse faiths,” Afridi said. “It’s not enough to dialogue but to live with others and share community service.”