Women share faith, common ground at luncheon

NEWPORT BEACH — Nadia Hassan was the only woman at her table who covered her hair with a scarf Monday during an interfaith luncheon at Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic church.

When it was her turn to speak on behalf of the women at her table, her explanation for why she covers her hair in public resonated with the Catholic women across the room.

"This is my way of emulating the Virgin Mary," Hassan said.

Those words struck a chord with Amber Nickerson, who had never attended the women's interfaith luncheon in the past and was asking the Muslim women at her table about the concept of God for Muslims and how they view Jesus.

"That gave me so much peace," she said. "It's true. This is how the Virgin Mary dressed up. It's beautiful."

It was the fourth annual interfaith luncheon at the Newport Beach church, made possible by the women's committee of the church and the Women's Committee at the Islamic Institute of Orange County.

The goal was simple.

"To show the world that Muslims, Christians and Jews can sit together, have lunch and make friendship," said Maria Khani, who serves on the Greater Huntington Beach Interfaith Council and helps put together the luncheon each year.

It began four years ago when Victoria Dendinger, director of Adult Faith Formation at the church, read an article where Khani was quoted saying she learned so much about others' faith through interfaith.

Dendinger wanted the women of her church to learn about Muslims and the common ground they share with Catholics, such as holding Mary in such high regard, she said.

"After 9/11, people got frightened and began to develop intolerance for Muslims as a group, which I think is so unfair," Dendinger said.

Khani and Dendinger then organized the luncheon. In the spring, the Muslim women from the Islamic institute and other county mosques join the women at Our Lady Queen of Angeles. In the fall, the Catholic women of the church join the Muslim women at the mosque in Anaheim.

"I love interfaith," said Fayruz Sabha, who told a surprised Nickerson that Mary, who was the only woman mentioned by name in the Koran, had a whole chapter to herself there, too.

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