CLEARWATER — The construction of an Islamic center near the site in New York City where the World Trade Center twin towers were toppled in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
A Gainesville minister's threat to have a public burning of the Koran.
Both have sparked nationwide controversy about Islam in recent months.
On Wednesday night, the Interfaith Coalition of Tampa Bay will host a panel discussion focusing on the Muslim religion titled "Can't We All Just Get Along?" at the Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater, 2470 Nursery Road, Clearwater. The public is welcome to attend.
Featured speakers from different Islamic communities will discuss how Muslims practice their faith, organizers say. They will answer questions about Islam and address responses from other faith leaders.
It's the first in a series of programs to promote interfaith understanding and cooperation.
"What we've seen over the years is that there is a hunger to learn more about others' faith," said the Rev. Abhi Janamanchi of Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater. "We held a series like this about three or four years ago and averaged 150 people."
Janamanchi, 41, of Safety Harbor has been senior minister at Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater for 12 years and will serve as panel moderator.
After a question-and-answer period, participants will split into groups for discussions under the direction of Roy Kaplan, an associate professor of Africana studies at the University of South Florida.
From 1989 to 2004, Kaplan was executive director of the National Conference for Community and Justice Tampa Bay Region.
Representing the Muslim faith on the panel will be Martha "Nailah" Williams, Aziz Merchant and Abdul Q. Aziz.
Merchant is a lay leader at Ismaili Shia in Oldsmar and Aziz is part of the African-American Muslim community in St. Petersburg.
Williams, 58, is a public speaker who says he likes to be known as a striving servant of Almighty God. From 1992 to until the organization folded in 2007, Williams was active in Congregations United for Community Action, a St. Petersburg interfaith coalition dedicated to the pursuit of justice.
"We form a relationship with our interpretation of words," said Williams, a resident of St. Petersburg since 1979. "I will be speaking from the point of how misinformation gets into the whole arena of religion. I am participating because I love working with people. I just love people, period."
Others on the panel are the Rev. Leddy Hammock of Unity Church in Clearwater and Rabbi David Weizman of Congregation Beth Shalom synagogue in Clearwater.
Weizman, 53, has served as the synagogue's rabbi since 2002 and served as chaplain on the post-Sept. 11 emergency response team at the World Trade Center.