One local Muslim’s mission: Understanding

Fatih Harpci is standing up against hate, for all of us.

If we want to “Stand Up Against Hate,” as this newspaper implores, Fatih Harpci has a way.

Harpci, a religious studies professor at Carthage College in Kenosha, works mutual understanding into his teaching. In his free time, the practicing Muslim promotes interfaith dialogue by meeting with churches, Jewish groups and others.

What’s important, Harpci said, is “going out and talking to people over a glass of coffee or beer or wine and having that human conversation.” He will often assign his students to go into town and have a conversation with a person of another faith.

These conversations underscore Harpci’s promotion of a very simple, yet very crucial message: “People should see one another as a human being.”

Harpci has an affinity for “gatherings where Christians and Jews and Muslims get together: they sit at same table, they eat together.” These very human activities of eating, drinking and laughing together “show that the ‘others’ are like me: they have feelings, they are sad sometimes, and they feel happy sometimes.”

Harpci often facilitates these conversations himself. He has been invited to speak at interfaith gatherings in Wisconsin to answer questions and provide the perspective of how Muslims think and feel about other religions and people of other religions.

One event was a dinner with volunteers of the Turkish American Society of Wisconsin and representatives of Milwaukee Jewish Federation. According to Harpci, the event was simply a dinner: “No lecture or presentation, not even a question and answer.” People simply sat together — Muslims and Jews — sharing food and engaging in thoughtful conversation.

Out of these conversations, relationships can strengthen. One of Harpci’s friends, a pastor, found Harpci’s love of Mountain Dew contrary to his expectations. Learning these little details about one’s personality serve to further humanize those who may be perceived as vastly different.

However, these conversations must go two ways. According to Harpci, “Each community has the responsibility of reaching out to one another, it is not a burden placed on any one group.” For Harpci, interfaith dialogues are not just about hearing, but listening. “I don’t just want to share my story; I want to hear your story.”