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church mosque synagogueWhen Amy Yount, a Christian, walked into her first iftar, the daily breaking of fast during Ramadan, she was intimidated. Yount, in black pants and a blouse, didn’t want to stand out in the room full of Muslim women wearing hijabs. But the longer she stayed, the more she became comfortable.

She attended a Ball State University event six years ago to learn more about the Islamic faith, and learned that the followers of Allah were just as anxious to learn about her background as a Methodist.

This event, Yount said, “sparked my love of learning about different cultures.”

Today, Yount, 25, immerses herself in another religion, Judaism, as the clergy assistant at the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation. She still worships as a Christian, but helps organize events for the Hebrew Congregation, including an iftar to be held Sunday at the synagogue.

That Islamic iftar, hosted by a Jewish synagogue and organized by a Methodist, is open to everyone, the faithful and agnostic. The attendees will celebrate the daily breaking of fast during Ramadan while encouraging mutual understanding of different religions and cultures.

The event will start at 6:30 p.m. with a viewing of the 2011 documentary “God in the Box.” At sunset, around 8:54 p.m., the Muslim attendees will break their fast, per Islamic tradition, and prayer. Everyone in attendance will be invited to feast on staples from several religious traditions, such as egg salad, stuffed grape leaves and hummus.

“It’s my belief,” Yount said, “that understanding one another’s cultures will lead to respect of one another’s cultures.”

The interfaith iftar started about five years ago. A group of Hoosiers, of multiple religions, traveled to Turkey with the Niagara Foundation, a national organization that encourages interfaith cooperation. The annual interfaith iftar has since traveled to different congregations, such as Congregation Beth-El Zedeck, St. Luke’s United Methodist Church and Second Presbyterian Church.

But this year is different. In the past, the events haven’t been publicized and had smaller turnouts. This year’s iftar, Yount said, is open to the public, and anyone who wants to better understand other cultures is welcome to join.

“It’s a chance for us to learn from and about each other,” said Imam Michael Saahir of the Nur-Allah Islamic Center. The center is one of eight local religious organizations participating in the iftar.

Interfaith iftars seem to be growing in popularity, with events popping up nationwide. President Barack Obama is hosting an event at the White House. In Indiana, Governor Mike Pence hosted an iftar in partnership with the Muslim Alliance of Indiana last month. Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry and Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard also hosted iftars in their communities.

The nationwide and local trend is connected to people embracing members of other ethnic backgrounds, said Charlie Wiles, executive director of the Center for Interfaith Cooperation, another partner in the event.

“Although there are issues that may separate us worldwide,” Yount said, “this event is a really great opportunity to explore the commonalities that we all have.”

“Although there are issues that may separate us worldwide,” Yount said, “this event is a really great opportunity to explore the commonalities that we all have.”

Last year’s event included a discussion about traditional foods with presenters from the Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths. This year, the discussion will reflect the subject matter of the documentary “God in the Box” — “What does God look like? What does God mean to individuals?” The film premiered at the 2011 Heartland Film Festival.

“Some of the people who will come will say God doesn’t mean anything to me, and that’s okay,” Yount said. “We welcome that.”
By: Kay Kemmet
Indystar

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