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University of Iowa News Release


Aug. 3, 2009

Yemeni visitors discuss faith in the Midwest at open forum Aug. 10

From the Middle East to the Midwest, a group of high-ranking Yemeni visitors, including five members of Yemen Parliament, two imams and two civic leaders, will come together to discuss the role of interfaith dialogue in their work as religious, civic and government leaders at a brown bag open forum from noon to 1 p.m. Monday, Aug. 10 at the Iowa City Public Library. The event, sponsored by the Council for International Visitors to Iowa Cities (CIVIC), headquartered at the University of Iowa, is free and open to the public.

"Understanding the role of faith on the world stage is essential as people and countries throughout the world, and notably in the Middle East, are making decisions about religion's place in civic life," CIVIC Executive Director Sharon Benzoni said. "We hope that as government, civic and religious leaders in Yemen, the delegates will take away positive observations about our pluralistic society, and that those who participate in the forum will leave with a deepened understand of Islam's role in the lives of people across the world."

The forum will be moderated by Shams Ghoneim, a leader in the Muslim and interfaith communities, and Newman Abuissa, CIVIC vice president. The event will include about 20 to 30 minutes for audience questions. An interpreter will assist the visitors, who all speak Arabic.

Yemen is located on the Arabian Peninsula in southwest Asia. The country is bordered by Saudi Arabia to the north, the Red Sea to the west, the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden to the south and Oman to the east.

The group, sponsored by the State Department's International Visitors Leadership Program and locally by CIVIC, will focus on understanding the practice of Islam in a Midwestern setting, academic and practical interfaith activities and the adaptation of a traditional religious community to the wider community during their stay in Iowa from Saturday, Aug. 8 through Wednesday, Aug. 12.

During their visit, the group will visit the Mother Mosque of America in Cedar Rapids, the oldest mosque in the United States. In addition, it will meet Muslim and Christian Lebanese as well as Syrian-American Christians to learn how they and other groups in Cedar Rapids have lived and worked together in harmony. In a visit to the Consultation of Religious Communities in Iowa City, there will be an opportunity to discuss charitable and other activities undertaken for the good of the whole community, based on interfaith understanding.

The visitors will also meet with faculty in the UI Department of Religious Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, learning how a public institution of higher education teaches religion to students of all faiths. They will additionally meet with members of the Amish and Mennonite communities to gain insight into how a faith community can maintain traditional beliefs and practices while participating in a meaningful way in the economic and social life of the wider community.

CIVIC is a community organization that works to "build respect and understanding between cultures through grassroots citizen diplomacy," Benzoni said.  CIVIC is part of a network of 92 similar organizations across the country that work with the Department of State's International Visitor Leadership Program.

CIVIC is part of UI International Programs, which consists of a number of offices, centers, degree programs, academic programs, research projects and services. Organized under the associate provost and dean for International Programs, these units serve to further internationalize the campus and community and promote global scholarship, research and teaching.

For a more details on the Yemeni visit, call 319-621-5434 or 319-335-0351. For more information, visit

CIVIC is located at 1111 University Capitol Centre in UI International Programs.

NOTE TO MEDIA: According to guidelines put in place by the U.S. Department of State out of concern for visitors' safety, reporters must contact Sharon Benzoni at 319-621-5434 in advance if they would like to arrange an interview with the visitors. CIVIC staff can arrange five to 10 minutes at the beginning or end of meetings to take photographs, get video and speak with visitors if they agree to be interviewed.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Sharon Benzoni, 319-621-5434,; Lois Gray, University News Services, 319-335-2026,; Writer: Tessa McLean