Priceless memories of State College

On the morning of Sept. 10, 2010, the Muslim community of State College converged upon Sunset Park for the prayer and celebration (Eid-Al-Fitr) marking the end of the holy month of fasting — Ramadan. At the same time in Florida, a pastor was getting ready to publicly burn a Quran, the holy book of Muslims. While the media chattered widely about that issue, a group of community leaders from faith organizations in this town quietly decided to change the narrative.

They decided to show that faithful men and women across the country can unite to reach out to other faith groups in their localities to collaborate upon just causes, participating in good deeds and charitable actions, creating a positive atmosphere of love and care, and countering discrimination, bigotry and divisive actions of the few who perpetuate fear and hate of “the other.”

For the Muslim congregation at the beginning, the presence of guests of other faiths at the event was not clear. Yet after the prayers and at the shared breakfast table, the Muslim community came to know the beautiful souls who had decided to come and celebrate this event with their Muslim neighbors. This “co-celebration” visit was coordinated by Sarah Q. Malone, herself an ordained minister and member of University Baptist & Brethren Church, along with various other members of State College area faith communities.

That day began the work of Interfaith Initiative Centre County, and was followed by creation of an ad hoc committee to maintain contact and communications among faith groups. Since then Interfaith Initiative has continuously reached out to faith communities in the area and invited them to participate in IICC activities and share their views and knowledge with others through events such as picnics, peace vigils and rallies, newspaper columns, interfaith speakers and discussion panels. The group’s size and reach grew, and monthly coffee hours were established, in which friends of various faiths meet to share ideas, spiritual perspectives, experiences and aspirations. For those who have not attended any of these, you are missing a lot! Just show up at any of these meetings to experience the joy of breaking bread and having a heartwarming, soul-touching discussion with people you may not encounter in other settings. Out of these activities many strong friendships have been formed that will last forever.

I have lived in State College for nine years and am preparing to move to Colorado this summer. Participating in Interfaith Initiative activities for the past six years has been a highlight of my State College experience. Memorable moments with friends of different faiths, learning about their lives, spiritual experiences, religious beliefs and rituals, the shared yearning to be/become good human beings, the love and devotion to the divine — and finally laughing, mourning and praying together in various occasions is something that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Jamal Rostami is moving with his family to Golden, Colo., where he will be on the faculty of the department of mining engineering, Colorado School of Mines. To join in the activities of Interfaith Initiative Centre County, or learn more, email InterfaithInitiative CC@hotmail.com. Like us on www.facebook.com/ InterfaithInitiativeCC