MASON, Ohio — Call it inspiration born of observation.
“Over a period of time, I kept thinking, ‘I ought to do something about that, start some kind of group so they feel comfortable,’” Szucs said.
Finally Szucs, a Lutheran who used to be a Catholic, called her friend Miriam Jackobs, who called Shakila Ahmad, president of the board of the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati. Ahmad called her friend Saba Chughtai and told her that a couple of women from St. Susanna Catholic Church wanted to connect with a woman from the mosque.
The group grew quickly, with the three women inviting more friends — and friends of friends — to join. Later that same year, Alycia McClurg became the first member representing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“In her words, she said, ‘You know what we need in this group? We need a Mormon,’” McClurg said with a smile. “Laura, a friend of mine, said, ‘I know one of those.’ So she called me and asked me to join the group.”
In the dozen years since, the network has grown into three groups that meet at different times. In addition to learning about each other’s faiths, the women also have delved into the issues of human trafficking, child poverty and hunger.
The network’s members have attended each other’s houses of worship to show support after times of tragedy. They have volunteered for the Ronald McDonald House and Interfaith Hospitality Network, and they’ve held fundraisers and donated more than $20,000 to local nonprofit organizations.
“We tend to sometimes focus on our differences. We should be focusing on what we have in common that will unite us,” she said. “In many ways, I’ve evolved through this group. It has made me a better person.”
“I’m a psychiatrist by profession,” she said. “It helps me in that realm, too.”
“I’ve just really learned to love these ladies, and I find myself defending their faiths,” she said. “Probably the biggest one is things about the Muslim faith. I know a lot of people have the impression that the women in that faith do not have much of a say in their lives.”
The goal: A more understanding community
“There was such misconception about Islam and Muslims in general, but also about Muslim women in particular,” Chughtai said. “You know, everybody thought that we stay home, we don’t go out, we don’t have a career, we’re completely subjugated by our men. So there was more than one need. There was the need to tell people what Islam is, but there was also a need to tell what a Muslim woman is.”
Szucs said she would like to see the group become even more inclusive with more African American members and Buddhists, for example.
“There’s never been an argument in this group at all,” she said. “They’re all people who are just genuinely interested in learning.”
“This is kind of cliché, but the more you understand, the less you fear,” she said.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To reach Lucy, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.