Teatime for Peace brings Muslim experiences into community dialogue

Surita Basu, Contributing Reporter

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Students, faculty and community members gathered in the Thwing Ballroom on Monday night to participate in Teatime for Peace, an event focused on introducing and learning about our Muslim community members. Teatime for Peace was established in response to the rhetoric of the 2016 election when the group Code Pink began asking supporters to host “Pop-Up for Peace” to show solidarity with the Muslim community.

The cause has since been championed by the West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church and by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Teatimes have been hosted all over Northeast Ohio in religious centers and universities. The event was co-sponsored by the Office for Inclusion, Diversity and Equal Opportunity with speakers from the Muslim Students Association and the United Protestant Campus Ministries in Cleveland.

At the event, attendees of different ages and religious backgrounds were seated at round tables with plates of Lebanese food catered from Aladdin’s Eatery. They were given reflection questions to discuss such as, “What three values from your faith tradition or life philosophy inspire you to better our community?” and “Tell the story of your family’s history in this country.” One by one, each person around the table shared stories of their heritage from countries ranging from Egypt and Pakistan to Germany and Italy.

“The most important dialogue, in my opinion, is what I call the dialogue of life,” said Ramez Islambouli, an adjunct professor of Islamic law. He emphasized the need to interact beyond theological differences and try and learn from one another.

“The goal is to open students to different cultures, especially cultures and religions that may have a bad reputation,” said Ibtesam Ghazy, a third-year biology and nutritional biochemistry student and one of the organizers for the event. “We’re just saying ‘Hey, here’s an idea, think about it, if you’re interested, here are some resources you can go to.’” 

The roundtable discussions provided a welcoming space for attendees to pose questions about faith or culture that they may not have felt comfortable asking before. This contributed to a rich exchange of perspectives and many described feeling surprised by how much their faiths had in common with one another.

“When you sit down with somebody, eye to eye, and you get to know them, and you listen to their stories how can you hate those people,” said Devi Gursahaney, one of the Teatime for Peace committee members, as she delivered the event’s introduction. “It is the ignorance that causes the fear.”

At the conclusion of the event, attendees shared their ideas on how to promote respect for other religions. One attendee suggested a national movement to open the doors of religious institutions to all to promote awareness and learning. Another gave an impassioned reminder of the power of love in promoting peace and acceptance. 

As Ivana Zajkovska, another committee member of Teatime for Peace delivered the closing remarks, where she reminded the room to sit with the uncomfortable.

“This is just the beginning.”

Overall, the event was a step in the right direction in allowing Muslim members of the community to share their experiences and for the rest of the community to learn and share their own perspectives as well.