Religions have different traditions, rituals and beliefs, and sometimes they clash. But, says an imam who is heading to St. Louis for an interfaith symposium on peace this weekend, their similarities are striking -- and ultimately promote peace between faiths.
Naseem Mahdi is the national vice president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, a denomination of Islam formed in 1889 which has been active in the U.S. since 1920. The Ahmadiyya tradition, he says, has been holding discussions between people of different faiths -- and people of no faith -- for a century.
"Our goal is to bring all the different faiths onto the same platform," Mahdi says. "We are so lucky to be in the USA where we enjoy freedom of religion. In many countries it is impossible for a Muslim to sit with a Jew. Radical Muslims will say, 'Go bomb this meeting.'"
The Ahmadiyya tradition has been mounting a campaign this year aimed at spreading the message that Americans have nothing to fear from their Muslim neighbors, blanketing buses and billboards with messages of peace and loyalty to the country.
Mahdi says that terrorists claiming Islam are perverting the faith. He also says other faiths have had similar problems in the past.
"The religion of Islam does not promote terrorism. This is a politicized Islam where people have political motives," he says. "They are greedy and power-hungry and they want to control the illiterate masses."
He points to European Christians in the Middle Ages as another example of misused faith: "When the Bible was not translated, people were very religious and the cleric had control. Perhaps Muslims in many countries have medieval thinking and don't realize they have gone astray."
Madhi says that besides the misconception of Muslims as terrorists, the biggest question he gets from non-Muslim Americans is about the patriotism of Muslims in this country.
"I quote from the Quran: We are required to be loyal to the country we live in. It's not our political statement, it's our religious responsibility."
The symposium, "How My Faith Promotes Peace, Love and Harmony in Our Diverse Society Today," is is free and open to the public and includes dinner. It will feature clergy from half a dozen faiths, including Judaism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism and Hinduism. Mahdi stresses that it's a discussion, not a debate, so don't expect fireworks.