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Following religious tensions, Bagley, Minn., interfaith dialogue remains civil

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Grand Forks Herald
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BAGLEY, Minn. -- After tense confrontations this year between Christians and Muslims in Bagley, an interfaith dialogue there Saturday went off without incident.

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Saly Abd Alla, a civil rights attorney and panelist at the event, fought back tears when it ended as she thanked people for coming. She had anticipated much less civility, she said.

"I came here … expecting such hostility because of what we heard about the events that happened in Bagley, they were telling people such horrible things about Muslims," she said. "I was really scared that people would have believed that, and I would come up here and be attacked."

In June, Bagley police were called to a speech by anti-Islam speaker Usama Dakdok at the high school when attendees allegedly accosted a Muslim protester. Dakdok, a Christian from Egypt who tours the country speaking on the supposed evils of Islam, did several speeches at the high school this year.

In response to Dakdok's events, the Minnesota branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations sponsored Saturday's dialogue at the Farm On the Lake, a religious retreat center northwest of Bagley. Dakdok mocked the dialogue in his final Bagley speech in June, offering to pay $100 to anyone who taped it.

Organizers initially tried to use a pre-registration system to limit attendees, but at the event itself, they let in people who hadn't pre-registered.

Tammy Godwin, who initially invited Dakdok to Bagley, sat in the front of the audience during Saturday's dialogue. She listened quietly and videotaped all of the speakers, but declined to speak to a reporter after the event.

The dialogue began with a panel that included representatives from both Christianity and Islam speaking about their faith.

Scott Morey, a Christian pastor, was first to speak. He pointed out the Greek word that became the English word "church" means "the people called out to be in conversation."

"We need to be in conversation with each other, that's the purpose of church," he said, speaking against simply dictating what other people should believe.

Alla talked about religious intolerance in the United States. She compared historical examples of hatred against Catholics and Jews to current discrimination against Muslims.

Jaylani Hussein, the outreach director for CAIR-MN, described randomly meeting a youth soccer team earlier that day, whose players he said symbolized the future of Minnesota. Somali children were together with other children on the team, just as more populations in Minnesota from different backgrounds will be mixed together as time goes on, he said.

"These brothers who are going to play together, they understood that they are one," he said. "I needed that sign of hope this morning."

Other panelists included Pastor Bob Kelly with the People's Church in Bemidji; Chance Adams, a Muslim convert who teaches at TrekNorth in Bemidji; and Farooq Andzenge, a Muslim scholar from the Twin Cities.

After the panelists spoke, there was a Q-and-A period where audience members submitted written questions to the moderator, who then relayed them to the panel.

One of the first questions was on what Shariah (Arabic for "law") was and if it was dangerous to Americans.

Panelist Jamal Omar said Shariah law is widely misunderstood because one aspect of Shariah, the hudud or prescribed punishment portion, is taken to represent all of Shariah.

Shariah is all the religious requirements within Islam, including guidelines on prayer, how to interact with neighbors and other rules of personal conduct, Alla said.

Hussein compared misunderstanding of Shariah to misunderstanding of jihad, which broadly means "struggle" and does not necessarily involve violence.

"These words that often come up, there's no explanation of their English (meaning) right away," he said.

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Zach Kayser
Zach Kayser covers local government and city issues for the Pioneer. He previously worked for the Wadena Pioneer Journal, and is an alumni of the University of Minnesota, Morris. 
(218) 333-9791
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