Following up on its successful Islam Awareness Week, Mary Baldwin University will host another conversation April 4 that explores the possibility of breaking down misconceptions between the Middle East and the United States and, instead, finding common ground between two worlds.

Arnd Wachter

Islam and the West: Clashing Beliefs or Common Values? will include a screening of the documentary film Crossing Borders, followed by a panel discussion featuring the film’s director, Arnd Wächter (right), Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Nihad Awad, James Madison University Professor of African Studies David Owusu-Ansah, and Founder of Melibee Global Consulting Missy Gluckmann. The free event is sponsored by Mary Baldwin’s Spencer Center for Civic and Global Engagement and the International Beliefs and Values Institute (IBAVI). It will begin at 5 p.m. in Francis Auditorium.

Organizers say the event is timely and will address issues that are among the most relevant and compelling at home and abroad. They hope members of the wider community will join Mary Baldwin faculty, staff, and students at the event to consider the question: Should we focus more on “clashing beliefs” or “common values?”

“The way each of us answers this question is likely to be associated with the sorts of actions and practices that we engage in personally or support in others,” said Craig Shealy, executive director of IBAVI. “For example, if we tend to perceive religious beliefs between Christianity and Islam as irreconcilable, it is more likely that Islam will be seen as a fundamental threat to our faith, society, or way of life. Alternatively, if we are inclined to focus more on all that we have in common — our shared values and needs as human beings — it is more likely that our actions and practices will be directed toward the pursuit of mutual support and understanding.”

Student organizer Nusayba Hammad ’13 — who also helped plan Islam Awareness Week in January — said she hopes the event will help curb the “us” versus “them” mentality that often exists between different religious groups. Even on a college campus, she said, misconceptions about other cultures are present.

“There is always room to learn more — not in a proselytizing way but just an educational way,” Hammad said. “If you are in college, you should know about what’s going on in the world. You shouldn’t just be in your little bubble.”

still from Crossing Borders

Learning more about one another is the central theme of Crossing Borders, which follows four American and four Moroccan students who make discoveries about themselves and each other through an intensive and sustained encounter. (At right: still shot from the film.)

“You likely will relate deeply to this film — one way or another — for reasons that are personally relevant to you, your life history, and your unique worldview,” Shealy said.

During Islam Awareness Week, a broad range of Muslim speakers helped spark a community dialogue about Islam. A talk by Awad originally scheduled for that week was cancelled due to inclement weather.

IBAVI, which formed a partnership with Mary Baldwin’s Spencer Center in 2009, has already brought several thought-provoking speakers to campus and is proving to be an ideal fit for a campus committed to inclusivity.

“IBAVI’s mission is to explore beliefs and values and their linkage to actions, policies, and practices around the world. That’s precisely what we hope to accomplish through this event,” Shealy said. “Mainly, we want people who experience this film and discussion to come away with greater awareness of self and others, thinking more deeply about these complex issues that affect us all.”