Visitors will fill a room in Wilshire Baptist Church to share a meal Thursday. They're not sharing communion or having a fellowship potluck in the East Dallas church but are coming together through Ramadan, a sacred month for those who practice Islam.
Dialogue Institute Dallas, an organization based in Richardson, is hosting 20 Ramadan dinners this season, joining up with other houses of worship such as Wilshire, Congregation Beth Torah and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
On Thursday, the meal of breaking the Ramadan fast will be at Wilshire.
“The Dialogue Institute of the Southwest is a group of moderate Muslim immigrants, primarily from Turkey, inspired by the work of Fetullah Gülen, who believes in peace through education and understanding,” says the Rev. George Mason, Wilshire's senior pastor. “I have attended numerous events they have sponsored through the years, spoken at some of them, hosted an Iftar [Ramadan] dinner at church in one form or another twice before, and was hosted for one such dinner in the home of a Turkish family.”
Wilshire has been involved in multifaith and interfaith relationships for many years, Mason says.
Emrah Aktepe, executive director of Dialogue Institute Dallas, says interfaith collaboration on the dinners has increased in recent years.
“As for the Ramadan dinners, this is a tradition we have been doing for years, but it was with a less number of outside venues and more at our center in Richardson,” he says. “Ramadan is a time of several aspects, [and] sharing is one of them. It’s a very big part of Ramadan to share ... with your neighbors, your relatives, your friends.
"Most of us within the Turkish community don’t have much family here, and we have already programs with different institutions, faith or cultural, for other purposes, so we kind of ... combine the sharing aspect of Ramadan with the institutions we work with to come together and share a meal with our local friends.”
Muslims worldwide observe Ramadan as a month of fasting to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad, according to Islamic belief. Followers traditionally fast during the day (that includes consuming no water) until breaking the fast with a meal at sundown.
The dinner at Wilshire will include bulgur pilaf, ground beef roast, green salad, rice pudding and baklava.
While Aktepe says there's no expectation for anyone to fast Thursday, there will be dialogue to bridge any divides. The idea of "food diplomacy" is trending right now, with dinners in Dallas at immigrant-owned restaurants and cooked by refugees from countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Myanmar.
“Our program is very simple, and it is actually more focused on table conversations rather than a lecture,“ Aktepe says. ”Our mission in general is bringing people together, people of different backgrounds, religions — and this [event] fits perfectly in that purpose, so we receive nothing but very positive feedback.“
In fact, the Dialogue Institute has had organizations host multiple years. A few of the new ones have already asked about hosting next year, he says. The Institute reached out to nearly 100 organizations and is hosting 20 collaborative dinners.
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”Some didn’t work because it was our first time reaching out and it was not enough time,“ Aktepe says. ”Some of the places are not interested in dialogue at all, but that might be one or two examples.“
For Wilshire, which is known as a more progressive church, it's a natural event.
”If we want to be respected by others, we have to respect others. If we want religious liberty for ourselves, we have to defend religious liberty for others, too,“ Mason says. ”If we want Muslims not to judge Christianity by its worst, most fringe and extreme role models, but instead by those who seek to represent the spirit of Jesus in a generous way, then we have to be engaged with them personally. Likewise, they want us to know their faith and to judge it by those who are tolerant and peace-loving.“
This week's Ramadan dinner by the Dialogue Institute Dallas will be at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Wilshire Baptist Church, 4316 Abrams Road in Dallas.