Seminar encourages understanding of the Islamic faith
Kelly Hinseth | Staff Writers
Sarah Nelson | Staff Writers
On April 14, 50 students, faculty and community members gathered in the Eastlund Room for the Responding to Islamophobia seminar. Standing before the group were three people of the Muslim faith: an African-American, a white woman recently converted from Lutheranism and a lifetime Muslim from Pakistan.
The panel of three shared their testimonies and backgrounds and answered questions taken from the audience about their religion and faith.
“One of our main goals for the [seminar] was to talk about differences and to put a face to a label or a name,” Janna Burger said. Burger, a junior, is the leader of the Better Together club.
Better Together is an organization that was started this year after Burger and a number of other students saw a need for a better understanding of other religions on campus.
“Other religions are not heavily represented here at Bethel,” she said. “We don’t necessarily get the chance to interact with students who are not Christian.”
Better Together was clear that the Responding to Islamophobia seminar was not about debating. Responding to Islamophobia, the first event put on by Better Together, was about storytelling.
History professor Amy Poppinga started the night by explaining the purpose and necessity for the seminar as well as her passion for the subject. She made the case that since the events of Sept. 11, 2001, information and propaganda regarding Islam and Muslims have labeled the religion as evil, and Christians believe that “fighting evil is a noble cause,” Poppinga said.
“I get tired when I hear people say, ‘Where is the response from the Muslim community? Why aren’t they speaking out?’,” Poppinga said. “This frustrates me because all around me, they are speaking out. I think the most important question is, ‘Are we really listening?’”
According to professor Carrie Peffley of the philosophy department, Bethel has decided to take a different approach to this labeling, propaganda and historical judgement of the Islamic community. As a school, Bethel has decided to embrace the conversation regarding the Islamic community Peffley said. Bethel is taking a stand against Islamophobia, which is defined as the dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims.
The movement to eradicate Islamophobia stretches far beyond Bethel’s walls, as Better Together recognizes that Islamophobia is a global issue.
“[Islamophobia] is obviously not just an issue in America in general, but it’s also a question people at Christian colleges are especially interested in,” Peffley said.
Peffley is one of many faculty members in conversation with Provost Deb Harless and President Jay Barnes regarding Bethel embracing its Pietist heritage when it comes to interfaith dialogue. Embracing Bethel’s Pietist heritage would result in the community listening to both sides of the discussion without judgement or anger.
“Pietism is this great sort of heritage that we don’t talk about quite enough,” Peffley said, “We sort of latched onto that and said that Bethel could be doing really great things to take a stand against Islamophobia.”
With this in mind, Bethel signed on as one of the sponsors of the We are One Minnesota celebration, an event held on April 24 at the St. Paul RiverCentre to reaffirm Minnesota’s stance against Islamophobia and racism.
For Peffley, she hopes the forum and movement will provide a stronger voice for religious pluralism on campus.