MSU group speaks out against extremism

Austin Montgomery
City Reporter

The Mississippi State University Dialogue Student Association will host the 11th annual "Dialogue And Friendship Dinner & Award Ceremony" at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, March 31 at the Hunter Henry Center, 100 Hunter Henry Blvd., to promote cultural diversity and interfaith understanding in Starkville.

The event will reach different racial and religious backgrounds in the area to foster a constructive dialogue in speaking out against religious and ideological extremism.

"The dialogue association is focused on having people together to show that we can live with peace and we can discuss our differences but to facilitate understanding," said Ali Akgul, secretary of the Dialogue Student Association.

Before the dinner, the group will open the ceremony in prayers from Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim backgrounds, Akgul said.

"Interfaith dialogue is occurring more frequently on university campuses and communities throughout the nation," said MSU Assistant Director of Student Leadership Meggan Franks. "It is an exercise in getting to know other members of our community that have different religious and non-religious beliefs and learning how to coexist. It also serves to strengthen one’s faith identity." 

Last August, a Starkville man was arrested with his fiancee after trying to join the Islamic State terrorist organization via flying to Turkey and escaping into IS-controlled Syria. On March 11, Muhammad Dakhlalla pled guilty to providing material support to terrorism and faces up to 20 years in prison.

"Extremism in religion is hurting people," Akgul said. "We had a bad experience in Starkville also. We weren't expecting anything like that in our small city. It can happen in every city in the world."

Dakhlalla's fiancee, Jaelyn Delshaun Young, of Vicksburg, has a trial date set for June 6. No sentencing date has been set for Dakhlalla. The pair remain in jail without bond in Oxford.

"We are trying to get people together," Akgul said. "It will work much better by having everyone with each other. This year it will be good. It's relevant."

Mayor Parker Wiseman spoke fondly of the unity event.

"It's usually a wonderful experience of blending together many different cultures to commit to the work of promoting a community that is peaceful, loving, kind and tolerant," Wiseman said.

The group works closely with the Dialogue Institute of Mississippi, an organization that looks to spark cultural appreciation and interfaith understanding by hosting trips for academics and students to Turkey.

Associate Dean of Students and Director of Student Leadership and Community Engagement at MSU Cade Smith traveled with the group to Turkey last summer.

"We can make the world smaller and our hearts bigger through interfaith dialogue and breaking bread together," Smith said. "This evening is a perfect way to open your heart, share your thoughts, and make a new friend."

The event is invitation-only, but for more information on attending, contact the group at

"The dinner is an important annual event that brings members of our faith and non-faith community together to discuss issues facing our community and our nation," Franks said. "It also increases interfaith understanding and cooperation on campus and within the local community."