Waco interfaith group encourages harmony at World Religion Day event

Associated Press

Associated Press
Associated Press
Associated Press

Al Siddiq wants to set the record straight.

Islam is neither a violent nor a repressive religion, though people often perceive it as such, the president of the Islamic Center of Waco said.

He will state his case and field questions from the audience during a program Sunday devoted to World Religion Day.

Siddiq will join representatives of mainstream faiths and faiths less understood from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Texas Life Annex Building, 1000 Washington Ave.

The Greater Waco Interfaith Conference hosts the event, which is its first formal celebration of World Religion Day.

The day was created by the Baha’i Faith in 1950 to show that there are common foundations to all religions.

Its anniversary actually fell on Jan. 20, but the interfaith conference pushed back its observance in hopes of getting a larger turnout.

The forum falls between the National Football League’s conference playoffs last week and the Super Bowl next Sunday.

“The main purpose of getting together is to understand each other better and to develop a respect for the religion of others,” Siddiq said. “We want to encourage the world not to judge a religion based on isolated incidents. I always get questions about Islam and I welcome them Sunday.”

Rabbi Gordon Fuller, who leads Congregation Agudath Jacob, said the interfaith conference at its core promotes tolerance of other religions. But in his term as president of the organization, he hopes to see more events such as that planned for Sunday.

“I think most Waco residents believe in pluralism and have a healthy respect for other faiths, but the biggest obstacle to acting on that belief is that we are overprogrammed,” he said.

“Adding one more thing to do, such as attending this meeting, is one step too many.”

He said he wants more Waco-area residents to put this issue on the “front burner” of their priorities.

Fuller said the biggest misconception about Judaism is that it is a monolithic religion that has changed little since the time of Jesus Christ.

“But it has evolved and continues to evolve today,” Fuller said.

He cited the differences between Orthodox Judaism and Reform Judaism, the latter of which is the belief that Jewish traditions should be modernized and compatible with the surrounding culture.

The Rev. Charles Packard, of Central Presbyterian Church, said he views the event as a learning opportunity.

“I want to know more about a person’s convictions, customs and beliefs,” he said. “I may not always agree with what they have to say, but I believe an understanding of their faith gives me a better understanding of my own faith.”

The public is invited to attend the conference, which organizers hope will attract between 50 and 100 people.

Besides Packard, Siddiq and Fuller, panel members will include Kirit C. Daftary, representing the Hindu faith; Carla Sperandeo, representing the Baha’i Faith; and Stephen Reid, a faculty member at Baylor University’s Truett Seminary.

As a service to the community, the organization will accept donations of nonperishable food items from people attending the forum.

Items will be donated to Pack of Hope, which supplies students at participating school districts with backpacks filled with food.

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At a glance

What: Celebrating World Religion Day

Who: Greater Waco Interfaith Conference

When: 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday

Where: Texas Life Annex Building, 1000 Washington Ave.

Details: The event is open to the public. Attendees are asked to donate nonperishable food items.