No sermon was preached at Second Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, on Sunday, February 12. Instead, an award was presented to a Muslim woman.

Preston Clegg, pastor of 2BCLR, implored his congregation to acknowledge that religion is a powerful force in the world and to understand that “faith is what we do, which can give us a great deal of kinship across religious boundaries and borders.”

He emphasized that interfaith work is important and necessary to be a part of the Christian faith, stating: “I believe Jesus himself was interfaith.”

Named after a congregational leader and congressman Brooks Hays, the award is given annually to a person who believes in and works for ecumenism, interfaith engagement and social justice.

Sophia Said received the award for her diligent interfaith work and help in settling Afghan refugees. This was the first time the award has been given to someone who is not a Christian.

“This kind of work is what Brooks Hays would be proud of and he would smile at the award being presented to Sophia,” Clegg ecstatically proclaimed as he presented Said with the award.

Four people standing together smiling for a photo, with a woman holding a plaque.

Left to right: Kevin Heifner, Sophia Said, Ray Higgins and Ali Khan.

Born and raised in Pakistan, Said is the executive director of the Interfaith Center of Arkansas, which has the mission to reduce the fear and hatred among world religions by providing education and enhancing public dialogue among different faith communities.

She designs and implements interfaith programs to create peace and harmony among faith communities in Arkansas. These programs include an interfaith summer camp for elementary school children, an interfaith musical choir, an interfaith youth core for high schoolers, as well as supper clubs, fellowship dinners and educational programming on world religions.

Said has been building bridges of peace and harmony through promoting dialogue and designing interfaith initiatives in the state of Arkansas for the last several years, especially through her work in the Afghan Settlement Program at Second Baptist.

When speaking with Clegg, she stated that the heart of her interfaith work is to understand others better and help God’s people.

“My community and what happened on September 11 induced me towards this life. That is one day where my life, like the life of many Muslim Americans, changed,” she explained.

Since that time, Said has worked to bolster bonds between faith, stating that “all faiths tell us to come around our shared values and promote common good and common word.” 

Another part of her work is to counter misconceptions about her religion, acknowledging that her faith tradition has been lambasted by the media to paint images of a violent terrorist organization under the guise of religion. The resulting fear and xenophobia have led to violence against Muslims, particularly Muslim women.

“According to Pew Research, Muslim women are among the group to be most likely to be discriminated against and are most likely to experience racial and religious discrimination in America, three times as much as other women in the general public,” Said stated.

She hopes that through conversation, dialogue, and continuing to have an open hand and giving heart, that all faiths can come together and protect each other from violence and promote peace.

“At the deepest level, having an interfaith conversation, relation or connection can help change your attitude towards an entire faith community,” Said explained. “That is the purpose of interfaith work “

You can watch her entire conversation with Clegg here and listen to a podcast focused on Said’s work on the resettlement program here. 

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct a quotation.

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