Sharing faith with STL

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Sharing faith with STL

Upon entering the tent, one first notices the circle of decorated tables. Then moving closer, the warm smiles and curious eyes become apparent along with the signs that proudly state “Christian Scientist,” “Islam,” “Buddhism,” “Sufism,” and under the signs sit volunteers, some on their own, some in twos and fours, excited to share their religion. One of these representatives sits under the sign that reads “Sufism” and near a tapestry with a colorful patchwork design featuring a heart with wings which she said represents her faith. Maryanne Angliongto said she jumped at the opportunity to sit in the Sufism booth at the Festival of Nations Aug. 25-26 to tell people more about the Sufism community in St. Louis. She also said she supported the purpose of the tent, which she claims was to encourage people to speak with others face-to-face about their beliefs.

“I think one of the biggest problems we have in our world is that we have so much information but we are so isolated at the same time because we are just getting these sound bites,” Angliongto said. “We aren’t really talking to each other, [so] This tent is an opportunity to really talk and listen to what people have to say.”

The tent at the Festival of Nations is organized by the Interfaith Partnership of St. Louis. Leslie Heberlie, a representative for the nonprofit organization that works to strengthen relationships between religious groups around the St. Louis area, said that when the International Institute approached them with the idea of having a tent for representatives of different faiths around the community, they were thrilled.

“We were delighted that not only does the International Institute help put faces to nations and ethnic traditions but they also have an interest in introducing the public to communities that aren’t in the forefront of our consciousness,” Heberlie said.

No other city has such a strong interfaith community,” Bastani said. “If any religious group is facing bigotry, the whole group supports that minority.”

— Bastani

According to Heberlie, the tent started with fewer booths and representatives but has now grown to overcapacity. She said when the organization chooses representatives for the booths, they usually allow anyone to have a booth as long as they follow the rule of not forcing their religion or beliefs onto others. One veteran to the Islam booth, Bahar Bastani, said this rule is what makes the tent successful.

“You can preach anywhere in churches, in mosques, in synagogues [but] here we are sitting as neighbors and putting what we have on the table,” Bastani said. “People can ask us questions and we just politely answer, [and] if we get in a disagreement, that’s OK because we are not trying to convert people.”

Bastani has worked the Islam booth in the tent since the idea first made it to the festival grounds. He applauds the mission of both the tent and the festival saying that he believes they serve as ways for others to celebrate the differences and recognize the similarities all people share. He has also attended multiple Interfaith Partnership events and enjoyed the opportunity to connect and support other religious minorities around the region.

“No other city has such a strong interfaith community,” Bastani said. “If any religious group is facing bigotry, the whole group supports that minority.”

Heberlie and Bastani both are already looking forward to the next Interfaith Partnership events coming up. The first, which Heberlie claimed is a gift to the St. Louis community, will be a free concert featuring professional musicians and various faith singers at the Sheldon, 5p.m. Sept. 16. Bastani is mostly excited about their annual dinner the partnership hosts, inviting groups of differing faiths around the St. Louis area to share dinner in conversation. Bastani says he plans to continue representing Islam in the tent and looks forward to sharing his faith with others as well as connecting with them to see that they might have more in common than they think.

“We should remember that as much as our thoughts may be different, our hearts beat very much the same,” Bastani said. “Our emotions, our feelings and our search for truth are all very similar.”