CAIRO - Standing up to controversy facing religious minorities, a group of women of different faiths from Tennessee's city of Murfreesboro have formed a local assembly from varying spiritual beliefs that meets monthly to foster communication between faith groups.
We live in such trying times, where everyone focuses on the negative, their differences and division, Safaa Fathy, one of the founding members of Women of Faith and board member of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, told The Daily News Journal on Friday, April 6.
Women of Faith has provided us an outlet to focus on the positive, our similarities, and to unify us.
The group gathers women of different beliefs, including a Muslim, a Unitarian, a pagan, a Methodist and a Church of Christ Scientist practitioner.
Stemming from controversy surrounding the new Islamic Center being built in Murfreesboro, the group members first geared toward introducing the local Muslim community to the public.
We literally went around to every clergy person at this meeting to ask if each would be interested in forming an inter-faith women's group, Candy Nelson, a United Methodist clergywoman and founding member of the group, said.
We decided this was a way we could show people that different faiths can come together and do good for the community.
From the outreach to the Muslim community, the group expanded to include all faiths.
We spent a lot of time at the beginning learning about each other's religions, misconceptions and beliefs, said Jill Austin, a Unitarian Universalist and founding member of the group.
The new group, Women of Faith, welcomes women from all religious backgrounds,
This is a place you can be accepted, for who you are and what you think, Austin said.
Problems surrounding the constructing the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro began since early 2010 when a vandal spray-painted Not Welcome on the congregation's Veals Road sign announcing the future home.
The controversy worsened after opponents staged several anti-Islam rallies against the center.
The climax came as arsonists in August set the construction site ablaze.
Last May 2011, a judge ruled that the construction of a new mosque in Rutherford County, Murfreesboro, does not harm the residents who sued the county to stop it.
Expanding their experiment, sharing others beliefs was inspiring to the group members who found a common ground between their faiths.
As a Muslim, there are so many misconceptions about my religion, especially involving its treatment of women, said Fathy, who shared the Five Pillars of Islam with the group when she introduced her religion to the others.
I have been able to connect with so many others to break these fallacies, while learning about others' beliefs at the same time.
It has given us knowledge, compassion, understanding, and a whole new level of camaraderie that is ultimately irreplaceable. We have made life-long friend, she added.
Learning about each other meant asking some of the tough questions that seem to be stark differences between faiths and spiritual beliefs, too.
What's nice, too, is everybody can feel like they can ask those questions and they are not being judged, said Julie Vice, a practitioner with the Church of Christ, Scientist in Murfreesboro.
I feel like it's such a loving environment where people are very open to learning about each other.
Women of Faith members also want to continue to foster understanding between others.
Currently, they are in the early stages of working with the Scarritt-Bennett Center in Nashville to create a diversity program.
The group itself might also be the subject of a research project.
If we can help, in some way, to mitigate some of the negative attitudes, then I think it's been worth every minute, Nelson said.
Can't we all just get along?