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New Zealand Shooting Highlights Need For Dialogue

March 19, 2019 2:49 p.m.

Arwa Alkhawaja, educational director, Al Nour Center

Steve Slocum, founder and CEO, Salaam

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I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. This shooting at two mosques in New Zealand last week is putting a more intense focus on a series of interfaith discussions in San Diego. The interfaith series between Muslims and non-Muslims began only last week and will continue through the season of Lent. The purpose of the talks is to build bridges between faith communities in San Diego and to dispel myths about Islam. The interfaith discussions are being organized with the group Salaam. And joining me is the founder and CEO Steve Slocombe Steve. Welcome to the program. Thank you.

Joining me also is Ira Alka Varsha educational director at Al Noor center. And Arwa welcome to the program. Thank you.

Let me start with you Steve. Has this attack on the mosques changed your plans for this series of talks.

Yes absolutely. We had a completely different program set for this coming Wednesday I was going to speak about the Israel Palestine situation and after the shooting we just pulled all the plugs and started to call from the Muslim community and from the church and decided to create a special unity vigil where we'll pray together and have a community meal together and then spend time just sharing stories of friendship between us.

What has it changed the way you feel about this series of talks.

No it's actually made me be happier that we have this series than we have the chance to speak and then voice our opinions. Actually it made me feel like we need even more of these series.

Now Steve what was the original purpose of this interfaith series.

Well the original purpose was the basic purpose of Salaam to create friendship and mutual understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims in St. Paul's Episcopal cathedral has really gone a long ways down that path. Normally we start churches from a standpoint of really barely knowing nothing about Islam not knowing any Muslim maybe having a lot of fear and believing things that aren't true. But St. Paul's was not there. St. Paul's already has a relationship with the Islamic Center of San Diego. Imam Taha Hassan they've done joint events together. So we wanted to get to a deeper level with this group further through our six step process of awareness and friendship.

So we're bringing in a range of speakers from progressive Muslims to conservative Muslims and a little bit in between and allowing them to see the full spectrum that represents Islam.

Steve why are you a former Christian missionary so motivated to dispel fears and misunderstandings about Islam.

It all goes back to my experience in Kazakhstan where I lived for five years and it just left a lasting impression on me. The Love the Generosity the hospitality. Only good things that left a warm feeling in my belly were in my heart about Muslims and Islam. So seeing the misery misrepresentation of facts and the overemphasis of the negative aspects it just seemed time to kind of repay the debt that I felt that I owed to the Kazakh people.

Ah well what can you tell us about how the Muslim community here in San Diego is processing what took place in New Zealand.

It is very sad. It is very heartbreaking. I was start from home and then I'll tell you what somebody heard from the other messages or the mosques. I talked to my children about what happened in New Zealand and I have four children three boys and one daughter. So I was talking to my daughter because she wears the hijab the head covering when she goes to school and she goes to a public school. So I was talking to her and was like How do you feel about what happened in New Zealand.

Are you scared. She said Mama No I'm not scared I'm just angry and disappointed. Why did this happen why. There is so much heat in this world that this hate is that deadly to her opinion just like how can someone look at someone in the eye and then after that person had greeted you with peace and you shoot you to death to kill you. And she said they expected when I go to school everybody's going to be talking about is like oh we're sorry for what happened but it was silent and then it turned out.

It's like a lot of her friends had approached her like through Instagram and that's like and they were telling her oh we support you we're sorry for what happened then I think it was hard for them to talk about it in the school. The other thing at the mosque now. Like when you look at it it would people be scared talking about myself. I honestly did not feel scared. I just felt obliged even to show up more mosque and do my part as Muslim and welcome anyone who wants to come to the mosque and maybe try to reach to us and hear from us directly.

So. Actually some of the mosques were even full more than that usual is like more attendance and then yes in the Friday's ceremony that the imams or the healthiest they were talking about these issues and it's okay to feel somehow scared it's okay to feel that somehow angry about what's happening but there is always the talk. Okay what are we going to do. What is next.

You know Steve to our was point the Christchurch shooting of course was the latest attack in a place of worship. You had the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh this Sutherland Springs shooting and then there's a shooting at an historic black church in Charleston. Is it safe to go to church anymore.

That's a tough question. It's definitely become dangerous. I could see why people would stop going for that very reason.

But these attacks are not primarily about religion are they.

No I don't think so. There are deeper things that are really upsetting thing to me about the New Zealand issue is that that a person could develop that level of venom and hatred to take him to that extreme act based so much on false information. That's the part that's overwhelming to me that that this whole issue of Islamophobia which is being actually kind of promoted politically as a political thing to help get people elected and yet they totally ignore these casualties is just coldly ignore the casualties of this political rhetoric are way over the last couple of days there's been a lot of discussion about the threat from white supremacists and extremist movements.

What do you hope that this upcoming gathering this unity meeting adds to that conversation.

I hope we try to label things according to how the author says like when we see extremism and terrorism. They exist in any nation in any group and it has to be tackled the right way from even our government wherever we go even even as people. I want to make sure that the community understands and everyone understands that terrorism and extremism and extremism is not only exclusive to Muslims. It's like when always when we hear something happened it's like oh all Muslims terrorists have did this and so and so when there is a shooting by a non-Muslim like this case the New Zealand case they were saying oh maybe he's an a loner he's like in his own he had no connections with others no excuses.

There should be no excuses for these actions we should really say this is an action of terrorism because that person targeted a place of worship to people that he even did not know and then he went in he killed them based on heat. This is terrorism. So if we all agree on the true meaning of terrorism and it could exist in any group we would be able to reach out to solutions all as a whole as a community as a nation.

And what are you hoping the unity meeting tomorrow lends to this discussion about extremism.

I'm not necessarily looking for more discussion about extremism as much as I am breaking down the barriers and getting deeper and deeper into friendship. And I have found that when I bring Christians and Muslims together and we observe our common prayers together Muslims and Christians on prayer rugs praying together and Muslims and Christians praying the way Christians pray when we do that together it's very powerful. We can't bow before the Almighty together hand-in-hand side by side and be enemies.

And I've been speaking with the founder and CEO of the non-profit group Salaam. Steve Slocombe and Arwa al-Khawaja educational director at Al Noor center and public speaker at we love our neighbors. Thank you both so much. Thank you for having me. Thank you for giving us this chance.

The unity vigil begins tomorrow night at 6:00 inside St. Paul's Episcopal cathedral on Sixth Avenue. Information about future events in the series can be found at K PBS dot org.

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