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Muslims and Christians Share Sacred Stories at United Methodist Church

The two religious groups both worship at Woodridge church.

For the last two years, the Irshad Learning Center has met at to worship.

About 40 people from both groups decided to spend time together sharing sacred Christian and Muslim stories Tuesday night at the church.

"We all live together in this greater suburban area," said Rev. Jim Galbreath from United Methodist Church.  "Many places Christians and Muslims appear to be in conflict. We wanted to explore places where we have contact."

The Christians shared Old and New Testament bible stories, including those of Ishmael, the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, the call of Abraham, the Parable of the Sower and the expulsion of Hagar.

The Muslims shared stories of Najashi, a good Christian king who helped a group of Muslims escape persecution, and a parable of the Scribes and the Pharisees.

Shahab Razfar, a member of the Irshad Learning Center, said the two groups have shared their beliefs with one another for thousands of years.

"It's actually a longwithstanding tradition with Muslims and Christians that goes back thousands of years," Razfar said. "In today's climate, there are many more barriers to discussion. You need to be proactive in these conversations."

Aziz Kord, of Naperville, said one of the big surprises to the group was the similarities in their stories. For instance, Mary is mentioned in the Qur'an 31 times.

"It's undescribeable for people to realize, especially Christian people, our point of view, not in a hostile environment," Kord said. "We worship the same God. Jesus is a Messiah."

The event came just a day after a federal judge allowed a discrimination lawsuit by the Irshad Learning Center against DuPage County to move forward.

The Irshad Learning Center worships in Woodridge United Methodist Church and other locations in the area because the permit for its own proposed worship center in unincorporated Naperville was denied by the county last year.

According to Mahmood Ghassemi, a member of Irshad Learning Center, the group purchased the 3-acre property in March of 2008. A single family home on that property had previously been used as a daycare center and was permitted to serve 70 people at a time.

Ghassemi said the Irshad Learning Center applied for a conditional use permit on August 19, 2008, for its own use of the building, asking for 100 students and worshippers to be allowed to use the building at a time.

According the opinion issued by U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer, the permit was denied in January 2010 after 17 months of discussion, neighborhood meeting and protests by Act! for America and others, some of which are members of the Naperville Tea Party.

Some of those individuals claimed Irshad was a terrorist front group.

One of the issues brought up over that time: the fact that Irshad had received money from the Alavi Foundation, a non-for-profit in New York which has been accused of having an association with the Iranian government. (According to the opinion, members of Irshad Learning Center said Doctors Without Borders, Mercy Corps, Harvard Law School, and Columbia University had also received money from the organization.)

Neighbors also voiced concerns over noise, traffic and late-night lights.

According to an article in the Naperville Sun Wednesday, the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations filed an 11-count complaint last April alleging "that the denial of Irshad’s zoning request in January 2010 violated the organization’s equal-protection rights and the provisions of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000."

The DuPage County state's attorney's office had requested to have the case dismissed, the article said.

On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer denied that request, allowing the case to move forward. As part of that decision, the 18 DuPage County officials who voted against the conditional use permit will not be named.

According to the Naperville Sun, the case is scheduled for a status hearing at 9 a.m. April 11 in the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago.

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