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Johnson City initiative promotes cultural sharing through storytelling

Jessica Fuller • Updated Oct 27, 2016 at 10:00 PM

Muslims in the community shared and exchanged cultural experiences by telling stories through the Northeast Tennessee Chapter of the United Religions Initiative Thursday evening.

About 30 people from different religions, cultures and walks of life gathered in the D.P. Culp Center at East Tennessee State University to listen to one another’s stories. Father Pete Iorio, a priest at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Johnson City, and Taneem Aziz, president of the Muslim Community of Northeast Tennessee, attended the event alongside other community members, highlighting the religious diversity of those in attendance.

URI holds periodic events throughout the community to promote understanding and unity among those of different faiths. Thursday’s storytelling put the spotlight on the Muslim community by alternating between a Muslim and non-Muslim teller for a total of eight stories for the evening.

The event was the second in a series put on by URI. The first event was held earlier this year, and Iorio said since the storytelling was received so well, the initiative decided to open the doors to another one.

“It opens hearts and minds when you are able to share a personal story, not necessarily about faith, but in other experiences of life,” Iorio said.

Some storytellers used humor to tell their stories, but each story highlighted a different walk of life. Basim Abdul-Karim spoke on his experience as a converted Muslim in the community with the current political climate, while Dr. Ambreen Warsy, a local medical doctor, gave a humorous perspective of her arranged marriage to her husband of 17 years, who laughed along with the rest of the audience while she spoke. 

“This builds a relationship between the Muslims and the non-Muslims,” Aziz said. “I think that’s something that we need to do, because there is a lack of understanding between one another.”

Aziz said the nation’s political climate is sending out a lot of rhetoric against Muslims, and members of the faith have felt the consequences around the nation and in the local community. Aziz said events like those held by URI are important to help educate people across the barriers drawn by misunderstanding.

URI will host a gratitude dinner on Nov. 12 and an interfaith Thanksgiving prayer service in Jonesborough on Nov. 20.

Email Jessica Fuller at [email protected]. Follow Jessica on Twitter @fullerjf91. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jfullerJCP.

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