By Renee Yan, Community Impact Newspaper
Speakers of different faiths and cultures advocated tolerance and equality in an effort to educate and spread awareness during a workshop hosted by Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls on Thursday.
During the event, "Diversity and Living Together: an Awareness Session from Various Cultural and Religious Groups," law enforcement officers and local residents listened to presentations about the cultures that can be found in Fort Bend County, one of the most diverse counties in the nation, according to a report published by Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research.
That report stated that, as of 2010, the Houston metropolitan area was classified as the most racially and ethnically diverse large metropolitan area in the nation, followed by New York City.
The goal of the workshop is to bridge a disconnect among people and to promote equality, Nehls said.
Keynote speakers spoke about practicing religions and social customs not prevalent in Western society, including the origins and meaning of the different cultures such as festivals and symbols.
Hindu spiritual leader Kokila Manjula Sree spoke about harmony.
“There is unity in every corner of the earth,” she said. “Diversity is a strength.”
Zahra Jamal, associate director of Rice University’s Boniuk Institute for Religious Tolerance, clarified myths and misconceptions surrounding Islamic traditions, specifically Sharia Law and terror groups such as ISIS and Boko Haram.
Jamal told attendees that women are not forced to cover themselves, and that they do it because they value modesty.
Groups that commit acts of terror in the name of Allah are not true Muslims, she said. The term jihad does not mean “holy war” but actually refers to an “internal struggle” with self.
Islam explicitly forbids terrorism and espouses a philosophy of mercy and magnanimity, Jamal said.
Muslim-Americans residents shared their experiences of living in America, promoting acceptance and cultural awareness as the most important characteristics to a healthy, diverse community.
“I believe we should continue to hold these discussions to better understand each other and come together as a community,” Nehls said.