Columbians discuss faith, environment at Flat Branch Park picnic

Sunday, October 17, 2010 | 6:17 p.m. CDT
Taha Hamedduddin, right, from the Islamic Center holds the megaphone for Shakir Hamoodi, the former president of the Islamic Center, as he gives an opening prayer during the Interfaith Community Picnic at Flat Branch Park on Sunday afternoon as a crowd of onlookers watch. Those in attendance were invited after the opening prayer to sit with someone of a different faith and discuss topics such as religious tolerance and working together as a community. The participants were encouraged to embrace their faith as well as be open to others.

COLUMBIA — People of different faiths came together for the Interfaith Community Picnic at Flat Branch Park on Sunday to discuss how their faiths can be used as a tool to promote peace, justice, harmony and environmental friendliness.

The picnic began with a Christian, a Jewish and a Muslim prayer, each led by a different faith leader. Those present were advised to sit with someone of another faith while eating lunch together.

Humera Lodhi and Saja Necibi, both 13, heard about the picnic through a leader of Friday Night Noor — their youth group.

Lodhi and Necibi, who are Muslim, said during lunch that they wanted to learn about different faiths and how to talk about their own faith. Lodhi was specifically curious about what Christianity’s main focus is. She also mentioned she wanted to know what a yarmulke was and why Jewish men wear them.

At Jefferson Junior High, where the girls go to school, they said they only get the chance to explain to other students why they wear the hijab — the traditional Muslim head covering — in passing.  Both wanted to be able to sit down and explain the reasons in depth instead of saying, “It’s just part of my religion.” 

In junior high and high school, Lodhi and Necibi said, is when students become more curious and serious about religion; that is the time when students start to form their own opinions.

One of Necibi’s classes had a Socratic discussion on the Islamic Community Center in New York. Necibi said that was a chance for her to talk about her own faith.

“That was my favorite day of the entire school year,” she said.

After lunch, the faith leaders spoke to the crowd about their own religions and invited others to do the same. Those who came were encouraged to come to the front and make comments. 

Mary Ella Steck was one of those volunteers.

Steck spoke about how the Earth is losing animals and plants. She said faith is a format that can be used to work on things such as environmental issues. We should have a relationship with animals and advocated eating vegetarian options, she said.

Carol Greenspan, host of Jewish Spectrum on KOPN/89.5 FM, also volunteered to speak to about environmental issues.

“Our traditions call upon us to become stewards of the earth,”  Greenspan said.

After the picnic and dialog, Monta Welch, the founder of Interfaith Care for Creation and one of the event coordinators, said the picnic had an amazing and beautiful tone.

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