Debbie Moss, minister at Unity Church in Tampa, stood in front of the densely packed room and surveyed the crowd. Facing her were people of different faiths, ethnicities and racial backgrounds. As she took a deep breath and began her universal prayer, the audience of about 750 quickly became silent.
‘We are grateful for the opportunity to share as human beings, forgiving our’differences, and realizing that our diversity is rich, and that we could learn so much from each other,’ she said in the prayer.
The thunderous applause in reply signified the overall mood in the room; the dialogue was officially in full swing.
Following Moss’ prayer, there was a screening of ‘Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think,’ a film from Unity Productions Foundation.’ The documentary explores a project conducted by Gallup – a polling organization – in order to discover what Muslims from 33 countries around the world really think about critical issues like terrorism, democracy and gender relations.’
The film premiered to a full house Saturday in the Marshall Student Center’s Oval Theater.
Alex Kromer, co-founder of Unity Productions, said the poll’s results inspired him to produce the movie.
‘Some of the findings of the Gallup poll are very illuminating,’ Kromer said. ‘They are also very important to our times, and we thought it was crucial to bring them in front of a large audience … because Osama bin Laden does not want you to know what a billion Muslims really think.’
Producers believe the film could be surprising to some.
Contrary to what Kromer called ‘popular belief,’ the majority of people surveyed in predominantly Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt support the expansion of democracy.
A steep majority of men in all of the countries surveyed (as high as 82 percent in Saudi Arabia) also supported a’woman’s right to work in the career of her choice.
A few of those to attend the premiere were elected officials: Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner, Temple Terrace Mayor Joe Affronti and Hillsborough County school board members April Griffin and Susan L. Valdez.
‘Through education, a lot of things can be fixed,’ Valdez said. ‘And ignorance is one of those things that can be fixed.’
However, not everyone who showed up supported the film. Protesters from the group Act! for America (AFA) held signs speaking out against the film. AFA is a self-proclaimed anti-Islamic extremism organization founded by Lebanese immigrant Brigitte Gabriel.
Randy McDaniels, the group’s spokesperson, said he believes the experts that appeared in the film had ties with terrorism groups.
‘I’m here to expose the real data of the research,’ McDaniels said. ‘To expose how its been skewed to (support an agenda).’
Ahmed Bedier, founder of United Voices for America and event co-host, said the protesting is a sign that dialogue is needed now more than ever.
‘Those people out there holding the nice signs are a reminder for us of why we need to hold these types of events,’ Bedier said. ‘This is what America is about: free speech. And we don’t want to take away theirs, but we think our speech is better and, in the end, the better speech wins.’
Diane Marcu of St. Petersburg, who was in the audience, thought the film was informative and was pleased with the statistics.
‘Since we live in a world of statistics, the statistics in the film meant a lot to me,’she said.
USF Honors College professor Samar Jarrah called for the audience to remember what united them, not what caused divisions.
‘The only thing that can break barriers is dialogue and interaction,’ she said. ‘Even with people that hate you or despise you or think you’re not human enough … talk to them and be kind to them because dialogue is the best’way to do it.’
Some of those featured in the film were John L. Esposito,’professor of Religion, International Affairs and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, and Dalia Mogahed, senior analyst and executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim studies as well as adviser to President Barack Obama.