The Christians asked about fatwas, divine revelation and the promise of paradise for terrorists, while the Muslims listened. Both groups wore sport coats, work shirts or lab coats, and a few women came with heads covered. But they all carried the same century-old logo on their ID cards, the blue oval encircling the scripted Ford.
Several hundred Ford Motor Co workers of many faiths and jobs -- engineers, designers, computer jockeys, plant foremen -- turned out on Thursday for "An Islamic perspective on the events of Sept. 11." The event was sponsored by Ford, the nation's second-largest automaker and a company in a unique position since Sept. 11.
Ford is based in this city, home to the US' most concentrated ethnic Arab community, and has hundreds of Arab-American employees in the area -- including, until recently, its chief executive, Jacques A. Nasser, an Australian of Lebanese descent who resigned two weeks ago after a stormy tenure in the position.
Ford officials have been sensitive in tending to relations with the city's Arab-American community. But much of the heavy lifting in fostering relations among its workers since the attacks has been done by the workers themselves.
While the company finances an interfaith dialogue group and a support group for workers of Middle Eastern descent, the meeting on Thursday was an outgrowth of impromptu "Islam 101" courses that one manager, Mona Abdelall, has been holding to explain her religion to groups of 50 to 100 non-Muslims since the attacks.
Abdelall, a leader of the interfaith group, invited an imam, Mohamed el-Sayed, to speak to the forum and answer the questions of a group of about 400 white-collar Ford workers.
Sayed is also a professor of mechanical engineering at Kettering University in Flint, so he easily broke into corporate-speak, talking about spiritual "enablers" like fasting during Ramadan and the bell curves of population distribution that left "2 percent on the extreme end" of most belief systems who could do such things as happened on Sept. 11.
"Islam came to make the earth and all life a better place," Sayed told his audience. "People think they can take verses out of context and do things to violate the mission. This mission is clear, to show mercy to humankind."
Mike Louzon, a 40-year-old engineer who works on the Ford Taurus sedan, said the event "gave a basic understanding of Islam for people in the company."
"I've worked here for 15 years," he added. "I like to see my co-workers understand what Islam is about. We need a lot more time to help people understand all of this."
Keisuke Taketani, a 26-year-old technician, said that workers at Ford tended to be open-minded.
"I have so many Islamic friends, because there is such a big community here," he added.
"That's kind of troubling, taking the whole for the mistakes of the few," said Naser Abdalla, 33, an engineer who wore a knit shirt bearing the Lincoln logo. "Some of us feel America is changing in the wrong direction."
For Mahmoud Ghannam, 35, a mechanical engineer who works on Ford pickup trucks and lives in nearby Windsor, Canada has seen his commute more than triple. Before Sept. 11, it might take an hour to get to his job in Dearborn.
"After the tragedy, it was very lengthy," he said, referring to the wait at the international border. "It would take three or four hours for the first three weeks."
The meeting was held in a high-ceilinged auditorium under tight security. But, for once, security was lighter post-Sept. 11 than before.
Normally, no photographs are allowed in the auditorium, part of the research center where new cars are developed. On Thursday, a few were snapped as non-Muslims asked Sayed questions like: "Is there divine revelation in Islam? Why did the attackers believe they were going to paradise? What would he do if he were president?"
"Maximize terrorism elimination," he responded to the latter, "and minimize hurting innocent people."
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