More than 60 people attended the first portion of a day-and-a-half program titled "Encounter Islam" to discuss and explore the Islamic faith Friday night.

St. Luke's Parish hosted the program and the evening began with a traditional Muslim dinner for the participants after which Rev. William Sachs, executive director at the Center for Interfaith Reconciliation, briefly discussed "Encounter Islam" and why such lectures are needed in today's society.

"We do this program because Islam casts incredibly powerful images in the U.S.," Sachs said. "Polls suggest there has never been more prejudice as there is today toward Islam."

Sachs briefly discussed how astounded he is by the questions he is asked about Islam and how he was once asked if it was true that mosques were only built on sites where an infidel was killed. Sachs responded by asking the individual where churches, synagogues and other places of worship were usually built because those were the same areas where mosques were built.

Sachs explained there would be content covered in the program that would clash with certain schools of thought.

"There is no such thing as a totally objective program," Sachs said. "This program is meant to be factual."

Sachs referred to another Gallup poll that said the greatest amount of prejudice resided in the people who knew a Muslim.

Sachs finished his introduction saying there is a need to openly discuss religion and other aspects of life with each other.

"We don't have to agree on all the major facts," Sachs said, "but if we don't get it right, the world won't get it right."

The first module for the program began after Sachs introduced Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, president of the Minaret of Freedom Institute, who discussed the history of Islam.

Ahmad began his lecture with the five pillars of Islam which are: Shahdah, or confession of faith; Salat, or ritual prayer; Zakat, or alms for the poor; Ramadan which is a month-long fast; and Haj, a pilgrimage to Mecca.

Ahmad explained how Islam and Christianity are similar because both religions share the same philosophy that Abraham was a prophet of God. Another fact the participants in Friday's program found interesting was that the largest Muslim country is Indonesia and not an Arabic country.

"Most Muslims are not Arabs," Ahmad said.

Ahmad spent the remainder of the evening discussing the history of Islam and the beliefs that those who practice Islam hold.

A questions and answer session was scheduled to take place at the end of the lecture but due to time constraints, participants opted to let Ahmad finish the history of Islam and push the question and answer session to Saturday's portion of the program.