Bahai News - Kansas City is becoming more aware of religious diversity
Kansas City is becoming more aware of religious diversity
By SHAWNA A. HAMEL - The Kansas City Star
Date: 01/18/99 22:15
Diversity in matters of faith is widespread in the Kansas City area. But
those whose faiths fall outside the Judeo-Christian tradition still face
One problem is that their beliefs aren't quite understood by mainstream
society, and another is that their traditions aren't quite honored.
"I think in past years there has been an increase in understanding of
other religions, and that's very healthy," said the Rev. Vern Barnet, an
expert in world religions.
"However, a case we still have is that dominant religions don't
necessarily recognize the importance of other religions and their holidays
that are observed," he said.
One example, Barnet said, was the case of a Muslim student at a local
school who was all but forced to eat lunch even though he was observing
his religion's fasting period.
The five-county Kansas City area is home to slightly more than 2,000
congregations and more than a dozen religious faiths. In addition to the
more familiar Christian and Jewish faiths, there also are Hindu, Buddhist,
Sufi, Baha'i, pagan and Islamic groups.
"Although it is hard to pinpoint in numbers, the largest faiths in Kansas
City outside (Christianity) are Jewish, Muslim and Hindu, and they're
easily recognized because they have a strong sense of identity," Barnet
There are substantial Sikh and Buddhist communities in the area, too,
said Barnet, who is the founder and minister-in-residence of the World
Faiths Center for Religious Experience and Study in Overland Park. He is
also active with the Kansas City Interfaith Council, which works with about
11 different faiths.
"There's a Muslim population between 10,000 and 15,000 people in the Kansas
City area, but most people do not know about our religion and it is
sometimes a problem for us, taking off our holidays from school or work,"
said Amjad Dalaq, manager of the Islamic Society of Greater Kansas City.
The Muslim religion centers on the word "Islam," which means both
"submission to the will of God in all aspects of life" and "peace."
Muslims believe that God, whom they call Allah, created human beings and
the world for the purpose of worshiping him, Dalaq said.
"Our children who go to public schools, kids in their classes sometimes
don't understand what they believe and make fun of them, and some teachers
don't like our children taking off school days for our holidays," Dalaq
said. "Some parents just take our kids out of school for the day anyway."
Steve Klick, a spokesman for Buddhist Information of America, said
mainstream society knows little about Buddhism either, despite the growth
of the faith in America. Thousands of Buddhists live in Kansas City, he
Buddhists celebrate a number of mainstream holidays, such as Hanukkah and
Christmas, but the group's belief system differs sharply from most Western
religions, Klick said.
"It's not that we don't have faith, it's just a different kind of faith,"
"We're about proof and evidence, and we believe you should doubt and
question everything until it is proven to you, which eventually it will be.
We believe in striving to help and benefit as many people as possible. There
is no heaven and hell in our belief system, and we don't dwell on sins a
lot. We believe people are inherently good and pure."
Mark Johnson, with the Spiritual Assembly of Baha'is of Overland Park, said
local Baha'is haven't encountered much discrimination. There are between 200
and 300 members of the faith in the area, he said.
The Baha'i faith was founded by the prophet Bahaullah more than 150 years
ago in Persia, now known as Iran.
"Unfortunately, our religion was seen in Persia as a very big threat, and
our people were persecuted very severely and exiled numerous times because
of it," he said.
Barnet said society is becoming much more inclusive.
For instance, an increasing number of churches have begun offering world
religions series, he said. The media have begun giving more attention to
different faiths. And he has seen more awareness in civic organizations
of the need to be more inclusive of all faiths.
"I think, for the most part, people are pretty eager to learn about other
faiths without having to change their own," Barnet said. "What I would
like to see is people visiting each other's places of worship, and that
doesn't happen very often. Also, I hope someday people can start talking
more openly about religious and spiritual activities, like they talk about
To reach Shawna A. Hamel,call (816) 234-5909 or send e-mail to
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