CARBONDALE — Years ago, when Chad Pensoneau-Conway moved to Southern Illinois, he said he was adopted by members of the local Sufi Muslim group, a spiritual community that has called Carbondale home for 20 years.
So he and his wife, Sandy, found their way to Saturday night's Dialogue Dinner hosted by members of the Carbondale Muslim Center on North Wall Street.
They listened, and digested what the various Muslim speakers said, among the estimated 500 to 600 people who crowded into the Carbondale Muslim Center on Saturday night to learn more about the faith group that has taken the front page in recent weeks after President Donald Trump's executive order limiting immigration and travel from seven Muslim-majority countries.
"We thought it was important both to broaden our own perspective — and the only way you broaden your perspective is when you become open to others’ perspective — and to get just a sense of the Muslim community in Carbondale," said Sandy Pensoneau-Conway, an assistant professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale's Communication Studies Department. "We wanted to gain a different perspective … especially given the political climate; we thought it was important to show our support as well and also because of the people we know of personally in the (community)."
In addition to the "sheer amount of people who were there," she said she was most impacted by a response from the mosque's imam, or spiritual leader, to one question. Imam Abdul Haqq answered a question about how the Carbondale community could best serve the Muslim community during this time. Pensoneau-Conway said it was similar to a question she'd wanted to ask.
"Just the fact that his response wasn’t about the Muslim community — it was about all of us leading a just and a peaceful life toward everyone — was very impactful," she said.
In addition to answering questions from guests, the organizers said they wanted to thank those in the community who have shown their support over the past few weeks. On a table with materials explaining Islam were cards, drawings and notes from people in the community.
Those gathered included Gary Hartlieb and his daughter, Jennifer; Gary said he has neighbors who are Muslim and Jennifer said she teaches the child of one of the Dialogue Dinner organizers.
They, and the others gathered, heard from Muslims who included a high school freshman, who explained how supported and included she felt among her friends and schoolmates; a couple, a cardiologist and his wife, a student, who had the audience laughing as they talked about being married; and parents to a young boy who expressed joy at returning to his hometown in Kansas.
"I couldn't imagine anything harmful coming from them or anyone that they knew or anything they stood for," Chad Pensoneau-Conway said.