On Saturday February 3, Emerald Hills Institute hosted a Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable event at the City Library in Salt Lake – “Two Faiths, One Common Base: LDS + Islam”.
This was not a debate in any sense of the term, rather it was a discussion between friends.
George Cannon, a lifelong member of the LDS Christian faith and a native of Salt Lake, is not an LDS “General Authority” or official church representative, but holds a Masters degree and is experienced in international business. Ayse Durmus, who holds a Masters degree in education, is experienced in teaching English as a second language in a number of countries around the world, and is a lifelong Muslim originally from Turkey.
“This is not an academic presentation” Mr. Cannon said at the beginning of his remarks, “but rather a conversation”. Later he told me “Ayse and I felt strongly that having this be a scholarly presentation was really the wrong way to go.”
Although Mr. Cannon is on a religious volunteer board, he is not an official representative of the LDS Church, but is “just an ordinary member”. And likewise, Mrs. Durmus is also “just an ordinary Muslim” and not an official ambassador of Islam. Mrs. Durmus and Mr. Cannon described how their mutual respect and friendship grew over the weeks as they were preparing the presentation, and they wanted the audience – a solid showing - to feel some of that camaraderie.
It was easy to see they had become friends.
During the discussion, there were times when both Mrs. Durmus and Mr. Cannon became Ayse and George, teasing each other and helping each to clarify responses to questions. And they did not shy away from differences, either, but showed their mutual respected as those were also discussed.
“I enjoy a good debate” one attendee told me, “but this was fun to see. It’s obvious they’re friends.” This observation was shared by many, an audience made up of a diverse collection of people from all walks of life.
After the event, I asked several people if they felt this kind of discussion was worthwhile. “Absolutely!” came the resounding response. Everyone I spoke with made very similar observations – in a world where the media thrives on feeding messages of discord and divisiveness, we all need to take the time to listen and understand each other.
“Many people are afraid” one attendee put it, “and only understanding can drive out fear.”