Students discuss the differences of religions

Religion was the topic at hand Friday when members from seven different faiths met for a dialogue to educate one another. Moderator David Austell described the event, “From Emotion to Education,” as historic at USF.

“To my knowledge, this is the first time representatives from these faiths have met in one place on this campus to have an interfaith dialogue,” Austell, director for International Student and Scholar Services, said.

Members from Bahá’í and Islam, along with Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Christians and Unitarian-Universalists each spoke to more than 75 audience members about their religions.

Austell, a Christian, said the purpose of the event was to promote interfaith understanding after the events of Sept. 11.

The guest speakers from each religion spoke from a student point of view and shared their experiences with their own faiths.

Raymond Ottinot, president for USF Bahá’í Club, said his religion is about teaching the glory of God and being a good person. Ottinot said Bahá’í is not a set of beliefs or customs, but rather the decision to live a good life and do good deeds.

“Our religion has a purpose: to safeguard humanity,” Ottinot said. “We believe in equal opportunity, abolishing prejudice and a universal language for everyone.”

Ahmed O’Keeffe, a Muslim, said he wanted to explain the basic concepts and dispel misconceptions of Islam. After comparing the similarities and differences between Islam and Christianity, O’Keeffe said he had explained “less than the tip of the iceberg” of what Islam is.

“We believe our path is the most correct path, we advise everyone to check it out,” O’Keeffe, a senior majoring in international studies, said.

Freshman Jessica Marion told the story of the Buddha’s search for why there is suffering in the world. Marion also explained that Buddhism is the teaching of compassion and there are four understandings to the religion.

“First, we understand that there is suffering,” Marion said. “Second, that our suffering comes from our own illusions. Third, that we can all be happy and (the fourth part) is to follow the right path.”

The program also gave Unitarian-Universalists a forum to let people know the religion exists.

Mary Poole said Unitarian-Universalism is a liberal religion and is open to all faiths. Poole, a graduate student in religious studies, explained the essence of her faith by posing the question, “Can people who believe differently walk together?”

“We promote the experience of spiritual growth of all kinds,” Poole said. “There is no one absolute truth. We are anti-isms.”Austell said that while there are religious differences on campus, it is important to educate people about faiths to promote understanding. Austell shared a personal story about how his family dealt with Sept. 11 through faith.

“My daughter was watching the news coverage when she saw a man fall from the World Trade Center,” he said. “She asked me what happened to him, and I paused and answered, ‘He didn’t make it.’ At dinner, she said a prayer, ‘Lord, bless those people who died, for that man who fell, for the people in the airplane.'”

Detailed pamphlets about each religion were also available at the 2 1/2-hour event and it was held in the MC Ballroom.