‘Put some facts on the table’

HANCOCK COUNTY — Pop quiz: Which religion’s holy book mentions Jacob, Moses, David and Solomon? A) Judaism’s Tanakh, B) Christianity’s Bible or C) Islam’s Koran.

Trick question. The answer is D) all of the above.

If answer C surprises you, there are some classes going on in the area that can offer you more information about Islam, and they’re happening at local churches.

On Wednesday, Fortville United Methodist Church features “How to Understand Islam.” The half-hour presentation at 6:30 p.m. follows a soup supper that begins at 6. The event is part of the church’s weekly Lenten Supper Series, which is offering a range of programs and topics.

“We’d like to promote and welcome anyone interested in attending to answer the question of ‘What is Islam?’” said the Rev. Joe Smith, the church’s pastor, who will lead the presentation with Shirley Rockhill.

In New Palestine, Cross of Grace Lutheran Church launched a Sunday morning adult class series “My Neighbor Is Muslim” on Feb. 14. The class, which continues at 9:45 a.m. Sundays through March 20, has drawn about 30 people from the congregation.

Tom Orr leads a couple of adult forums each year on various subjects. He said he has a personal interest in this class topic, so he approached the Rev. Mark Havel about using it for a class.

“We just thought it was important to have this dialogue and put some facts on the table,” Orr said.

He’s hoping class participants will come to see Muslims as people of faith, not impose a terrorist stereotype on every Muslim they meet.

Hazem Bata, secretary general and CEO of the Islamic Society of North America, said such dialogue is important. He points to the interfaith work the society does from its offices in Plainfield and in Washington, D.C., home of several national religious councils.

Bata said requests to the society for informational presentations have picked up since Sept. 11, 2001, though through those years the demand has ebbed and flowed.

He points to similarities between Christianity and Islam — citing references in the Koran to David, Solomon, Jacob, Moses and Mary — among the differences between the two religions, such as Christians believing Jesus to be the son of God and Muslims seeing him as God’s messenger.

Bata said when people have a classmate, a colleague or a neighbor who is Muslim — in other words, when they meet an actual Muslim person — it’s easier to see a Muslim as another person paying a mortgage and saving for the children to go to college.

“They have this image of Muslims as blood-thirsty barbarians looking to kill nonbelievers whenever they get a chance,” Bata said. “I find that once they meet a Muslim, it humanizes Muslims.”

Orr hopes class participants at Cross of Grace experience that journey of seeing the person and not the label. He said they have largely come to the class with curiosity and openness.

“I’m just hoping people will come away from this more informed about Islam and more open to relationship with people who practice Islam.”