Mystic panel is 30th 'Honest Conversation' with Connecticut Muslims

Mystic — A statewide interfaith series dedicated to educating the public about Islam made a stop in Mystic Wednesday night, giving three Connecticut Muslims the opportunity to talk about their faith in the light of recent terror attacks.

The 30th "Honest Conversation" was cosponsored by the Connecticut Coalition for Interfaith Understanding, Hartford Seminary and the Muslim Coalition of Connecticut and was hosted by the Mystic Area Ecumenical Council at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on Flanders Road. Old Lyme resident and Syrian native Nada Safadi Awwa, Bolton resident Diana Hossain and New Haven native Colleen Keyes fielded questions from a room of about 50 guests about terrorism, dietary and clothing restrictions, and other aspects of Islam.

Terry Schmidt, executive director of the CCIU, served as moderator for the event, part of the series that has been held around the state since April 2015 and has made stops in Norwich and Stonington previously. Guests submit questions for him to ask the panel, which he said makes a more inviting atmosphere, as people aren't as afraid to ask tough or even simple questions anonymously.

"We're trying to provide a forum for people to ask the questions that are probably in their mind but don't have the forum to ask," he said.

Schmidt noted the panel had been planned for months, and the timing of it in relation to Tuesday's attack in New York City was coincidental. Nevertheless, the panelists discussed how they feel when a terrorist declares allegiance to ISIS or other groups claiming a tie to Islam, and they shared what their faith says about terrorist acts.

When asked about specific verses of the Quran that condone or condemn terrorism, Safadi Awwa noted several passages condemning violence, and Hossain referenced a verse that says killing one person is comparable to killing all of humanity. Keyes noted that armed conflict is allowed in some cases, but with strict rules of engagement.

"In those rules of engagement, the elderly, children, women, all noncombatants, even trees, even trees and livestock and the land cannot be desecrated, harmed, destroyed," she said, "because the only people who would be engaging in the armed conflict are the armies, and outside of that, violence is not allowed."

They also answered questions about general practices in Islam, such as when Muslims pray, how they worship, what they can eat and what they can wear. Keyes and Safadi Awwa both wear the hijab, while Hossain does not, and they all said that wearing it is a personal preference within the general tenet of dressing modestly.

"I have come to the conclusion that I'm also a symbol of a different lifestyle, and globalism or being multicultural is all about introducing different ways of life," Safadi Awwa said. "I consider myself as a reminder to everyone that the world is rich in different traditions and more than one right way to live life."

To close the night, Schmidt asked the three panelists to share the most meaningful part of Islam and the most beautiful thing that has come out of the healing process after a terrorist attack. Safadi Awwa said the religion's dedication to fairness and balance has been the most important to her, and Keyes said the attendance Wednesday was a good demonstration of the support the Muslim community gets after a tragedy.

"Whenever anything of this magnitude happens in a terror way, I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support," she said. "That really puts the terrorist act on its head, and for me that has really been a lifesaver."

a.hutchinson@theday.com

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