Friendship dinner encourages intercultural conversation - Keynote speaker Mustafa Akyol speaks at the Acacia Foundation seventh annual dialogue and friendship dinner about his book "Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty," addressing Islam within the context of democracy. Photo by Jennifer Cheng
Academics, representatives of media and local faith communities, and other guests gathered on the UW campus to promote intercultural and interfaith dialogue Saturday evening.
Since 2005, the Acacia Foundation has hosted the Annual Dialog and Friendship Dinner, and this year the dinner was held at the UW Club. The Acacia Foundation is a local nonprofit organization that promotes social peace and mutual understanding through intellectual interaction opportunities such as conferences, panels, and presentations.
This year, the Acacia Foundation Dialog and Friendship Dinner featured a keynote speech by Mustafa Akyol, a Turkish columnist who has written for various prestigious publications. Akyol talked about his new book, “Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty.”
Akyol opened the presentation with an anecdote of his first encounter with pancakes on a visit to a McDonald’s restaurant in the United States, and how he was fascinated by their taste.
“The next time I came to the U.S. [I wanted] pancakes,” Akyol said. “But I was thinking that pancakes was an exclusively McDonald’s product.”
When he saw another restaurant selling pancakes, Akyol said he thought it copied McDonald’s pancakes.
From that experience, Akyol concluded that foreign culture could be misleading because one’s observation of foreign culture usually depends on superficial observation.
“The problem is that our image of societies other than our own — and especially civilizations other than our own — is always shaped by the most extremist figures,” Akyol said.
Because it is a widespread dynamic, Akyol invited the audience to try to look deeper than the extremists of a certain society.
In the presentation, Akyol explained that the problem with extremists — in this case, Muslim extremists — is the blind literalism with which they interpret the Koran and Prophet Muhammad’s Hadith. Certain values applicable in the time of the Prophet Muhammad might need readjustments in context in order for them to be applicable in modern times. In addition, Akyol also noted that the Muslim extremists’ violent form of zealotry can also be fueled by nationalism, because there is no mention of spreading violence in Islamic theology.
The keynote ended with a question-and-answer session and a few remarks from Fernando Enns, Mennonite theology and ethics professor at VU University Amsterdam, and Larry Seaquist, current Democratic member of the Washington House of Representatives.
Seaquist looked at the growing diversity in the U.S. population and said he hoped for less ethnocentric tendencies in the American society. He also pointed out that both presidential candidates showed that tendency during the debates.
“I personally hope that that blustering, self-absorbed, political rhetoric that we heard [in the presidential debates] is on its way out, because the kids in this country simply are not growing up in that kind of world,” Seaquist said. “[I hope] we as Americans will be as admiring or tuned-in to that rich thinking that [Akyol] brought.”
Enns also admired Akyol’s critical thinking.
“I do think that what we have seen [Akyol] doing tonight is very important because it gives transparency to [his] own religion,” Enns said. “Usually we try to portray a nice image of our own group, and to present them in a more critical way … Especially with the extremist side of our religion, that is something that needs some trust before you do that.”
Reach contributing writer Imana Gunawan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @imanafg
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