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Ramadan event at Islamic Center of Pittsburgh promotes acceptance

| Sunday, July 13, 2014, 10:24 p.m.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Sheikh Atef Mahgoub gives the opening remarks at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh Opening Doors Humanity Day Interfaith Banquet Iftar on July 13, 2014.The event presented awards to four individuals and followed by a buffet.

The Islamic Center of Pittsburgh celebrated the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on Sunday during its annual Humanity Day, at which local educators were honored for promoting acceptance and understanding of different faiths.

“Ramadan is about showing mercy and compassion,” the center's Sheikh Atef Mahgoub said after beginning the event with a prayer for peace. “It's about setting our priorities straight.”

The center in Oakland honored many non-Muslims, a fitting gesture for an event that promotes tolerance, said keynote speaker Alia Bilal, who works for Chicago's Inner-City Muslim Action Network.

“To me, it's a day when everyone from around the community, people of different faiths, different walks of life get a chance to come together and celebrate their successes,” she said. “The United States is a country where we've been able to do things, to bring diverse conglomerations of humanity together. It doesn't always mean people exist as peacefully and harmoniously as we'd like, but it brings a huge opportunity.”

Among those honored was Marinus Iwuchukwu, the chair of Duquesne University's Christian-Muslim Dialogue. He said he instructs all of his students to visit places of worship they have never before experienced.

“I have made it my duty to engage my students with other religions,” Iwuchukwu said. “They tell me that they wouldn't do it if they weren't asked to do it, but having done it, it was some of the greatest experiences of their lives.”

The Rev. Thomas Hart, a theology instructor at St. Vincent College in Unity, said Muslims and Catholics must engage in meaningful dialogue, adding that “any dialogue worthy of the name requires trust ... and trust cannot be simply expected or demanded, it has to be earned.”

“We're all living in the same community, and there are social problems facing all of us,” he said. “Certainly, we can ... cooperate and show the world what that cooperation might look like in addressing social issues.”

Julianne Slogick, a teacher at Mt. Lebanon High School, was honored for bringing her students to the Oakland mosque regularly, the only teacher in the county who returns every year, officials said. Fran Leap, an associate professor of religious studies at Seton Hill University, was honored.

About 200 people attended the event, which ended with a meal to break the daily Ramadan fast.

“We in the Peduto administration believe in including and acknowledging faith in what we do — it is separate, but it isn't,” said Valerie McDonald Roberts, chief urban affairs officer for Pittsburgh. “This is beautiful. Please continue to dialogue, to communicate. We are all in the same boat.”

Chris Togneri is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5632 or ctogneri@tribweb.com.

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