Shadi Ghafari spent last Saturday afternoon making snow cones. Serving the icy treats in paper cups near the turtle pond at Conejo Creek North Park in Thousand Oaks, his hands were sticky with a mix of cherry-, watermelon- and green-apple-flavored syrups.
The 14-year-old, who will be entering Newbury Park High School in the fall, was one of dozens of volunteers from the Islamic Center of Conejo Valley, which hosted the annual Family of Abraham picnic last weekend. Abraham is the patriarch of the major monotheistic religions, and Shadi said the picnic bearing the name of the father of the faiths offered a chance for people of different faiths to make friends and collaborate on common interests.
“I feel like it’s totally spreading a positive message,” he said.
Muslims, Jews and Christians from Ojai to Oak Park gathered at the fete at the lakeside picnic venue on Janss Road. More than 350 people from churches, temples and mosques belonging to the Ventura County Interfaith Community showed up for burgers, fresh fruit and snow cones.
Shajee Siddiqui is president of the ICCV board of directors. He said the Islamic center makes the effort to host the yearly picnic in order to promote understanding among different faiths.
“Most hate is based on misunderstanding,” he said. “The more you do together, the easier it is to respect each other. We go to their (places of worship). They come to our mosque.”
Over the past 20 years, Nayeem Ahmed said, he’s seen the annual interfaith picnic grow exponentially. He said this year’s turnout, though sizable, would have been even larger had it not been for the World Cup being played the same weekend.
“Maybe we should have brought a TV and shown the game,” he said.
Rabbi Belle Michael is the campus rabbi at Cal Lutheran University. She said she looks forward to the picnic each year.
“Getting to know people one-on-one is important,” she said. “It breaks down stereotypes and preconceived notions.”
Tim McDonald attends Channel Islands Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Oxnard. The Camarillo resident is the regional director of Peace Catalyst International, an organization that works to foster peace and partnerships between Muslims and Christians.
He said Jesus preached a message of peace. McDonald said he wasn’t interested in converting anyone to anything other than being a peacemaker.
“We seek the peace of the city,” he said. “We’re trying to do it like Jesus. What a concept, right?”
Sana Shah is a chemistry major at CLU and the president of the Muslim Student Association on the campus. She said she appreciated being in a setting where she was able to meet new people not in spite of their differences, but because of them.
“The great thing about interfaith events is having people come up to us and strike up a conversation,” she said. “We need more of this.”
Salma Kabli helped organize the event, which included a heartfelt send-off for Imam Ahmed Patel, who is retiring from his official role leading Conejo Valley
Islamic Center. He’s been at the helm of the Newbury Park mosque since 2004.
Addressing the crowd after lunch, Siddiqui said Patel has worked tirelessly to raise funds and secure donations for the needy. Kabli told the Acorn Patel is leaving behind large shoes to fill.
“He’ll be very difficult to replace,” she said.
When asked about the amount of effort it takes to feed and entertain nearly 400 people for a day, Kabli just smiled.
“We love the effort,” she said.