Following the nightmarish attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on America, there came a wave of outrage and fury toward those of the Muslim faith by many in the United States, a hatred that still permeates some segments of society.
It is because of those feelings that two local religious leaders, a Christian and a Muslim, are collaborating to welcome the public to an inaugural Interfaith Dinner at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church on Sunday, Jan. 19.
Attendees will enjoy a Pakistani dinner and listen to words of hope, love and encouragement, words that may serve to help dispel the darkness of hatred.
“9/11 was a sad, dreadful event for any American, and we Muslims are part of this beautiful landscape called the United States of America,” said Khalid Saeed, who proposed the Interfaith Dinner idea to Pastor Trudy Franzen of St. Stephen’s. “I have lived in the USA since 1974 and am part of the community,” Saeed continued. “I am as American as anyone else.”
Saeed, who is president of the American Muslim Voice Foundation, added that after 9/11, hysteria swept the country regarding Muslims, creating “very tough times” for not only Muslims but for Arabian people and South Asians as prejudice reigned.
“Not only Muslims but those perceived as being Muslims were targeted,” said Saeed. “Even more than a decade after that dreadful day, an organized effort is going on to create ‘Islamophobia’ and hate against Muslims.”
The dinner planned for Jan. 19, is a step toward promoting education and understanding between Christians and Muslims, both Saeed and Pastor Franzen agree.
“Khalid came up with the idea for the dinner and our people are really excited,” said Franzen, who for about a year has led a congregation of about 150 at the Lutheran church on Olson Lane off El Dorado Hills Boulevard.
“I found Khalid to be a tremendous friend and support when I was in my first year of ministry in Woodland. When he says he will pray for me, I know he does. We’ve maintained our friendship since meeting in 2007.”
Franzen said in pitching the idea to church members a woman in her 80s came up to the pastor and said, “How will we ever learn what people are like if we do not take these opportunities? I’m for it.”
Saeed said members of his following also are looking forward to the event and will be happy to serve a traditional Pakistani dinner, which likely will consist of spiced meats and other dishes.
“Pakistani cuisine has a large variety in which we enjoy vegetarian dishes but also a lot of items with beef, lamb, goat, poultry and seafood,” he explained. “The dishes are exotic and flavorful, but still may vary with individual tastes and are adjusted with spices. I don’t know the exact menu for this upcoming dinner yet, but generally there will be salad, nan bread, rice, some curried meat or poultry and at least one vegetarian dish in case someone does not eat meat. I am sure we will have some kind of dessert as well.
“We are just making a small effort to let people know who we are and what we are, same as any community, with the same hopes and dreams to live in peace, raise and educate our kids, by being positive, contributing members of American society,” Saeed said.
Pastor Franzen said she has come to be quite impressed with her friend’s dedication to promoting understanding and acceptance of all people and is happy to participate in the joint effort.
“After the World Trade Center tragedy in 2001, Khalid was inspired to reach out to people of different faiths, especially so that Muslims could be better made known. He was very moved to dispel fear,” she said. “I met him when I was a new pastor and I was excited to find someone like him, who was interested in friendly dialog with Christians.
“We share many values, such as the need for people of faith to work for justice for the poor. We both have worked on the issues of homelessness and feel that a just society cannot allow such a thing. We also share an interest in non-violent change.”
The pastor said Saeed dedicates much of his spare time toward efforts promoting peace and goodwill.
“Khalid works for Raley’s and I run into him often at my local Raley’s,” she began. “He’s actually very busy, because he is not paid to do faith work. He works full time and still finds the time to work for interfaith relationships and connections.
“He was very instrumental in promoting an event in Davis called, ‘Celebration of Abraham’ in which the “three faiths of the book” (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) come together to celebrate their common heritage in Abraham.”
Saeed lived in Woodland, where his three children were born, for 35 years before moving to Sacramento five years ago. He recalls how he met Franzen.
“I am part of the ‘ Woodland Ecumenical Ministries’ and that’s how I got in touch with Pastor Trudy,” he said.
Saeed added that the public might not realize just how many of the Muslim faith live in the greater Sacramento area.
“In Woodland we have a population of about 2,500 Muslims and in greater Sacramento we have around 60,000 Muslims living.” Muslims have lived in Northern California since the mid- to late 1800s, Saeed pointed out.
The dinner event begins at 5 p.m. at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church, 1001 Olson Lane off El Dorado Hills boulevard. Those planning to attend are asked to RSVP by Jan. 16 so that enough food will be prepared. Call 916-933-1441 to make a reservation.
“Anybody and everybody is encouraged to join us,” said Saeed. “It’s just to get to know each other and eliminate the fear of the unknown, the biggest fear known to mankind. Let’s move from fear to friendship.”