09/13/10: Interfaith gatherings call for tolerance, remember 9/11 victims

Interfaith gatherings call for tolerance, remember 9/11 victims

By Nick Meyer

Monday, 09.13.2010, 11:57am- Arab American News

More than 20 religious leaders from various backgrounds and several different churches and mosques came together for an interfaith prayer session in support of tolerance and understanding on Sept. 11 at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn. PHOTOS: Nick Meyer/TAANA total of nearly 2,000 people gathered this past weekend for interfaith prayers at two of the largest religious complexes in metro Detroit in remembrance of the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks and in support of tolerance and understanding against recent incidents of anti-Islam hate and ignorance.

The weekend was kicked off at a gathering of about 1,100 people at Second Ebeneezer Church on the east side of Detroit on Friday, September 10 for an interfaith prayer service from more than a dozen religious leaders.

Then on Saturday, September 11, the ninth anniversary of the attacks, an estimate of more than 800 people from religious backgrounds ranging from Muslims to Catholics to Methodists gathered to listen to prayers from another gathering of more than 20 religious leaders including some who attended the previous day's prayer service.

With numerous journalists and TV cameras present on Saturday, the leaders took to the podium one-by-one to offer their prayers for peace and understanding in response to media sensationalism and fear-mongering over the planned Islamic Community Center in New York City near Ground Zero and the planned Qur'an burning event by Florida Pastor Terry Jones that was eventually suspended under heavy pressure from various groups.

They also offered prayers in remembrance of the victims during 9/11 and the wars that followed.

"Here this evening we have a diverse, dynamic community of people and religious leaders from different backgrounds to honor the nearly 3,000 innocent souls who died in the 9/11 attacks as well as the millions of innocent lives lost in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan," said Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi of the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights.

"We bless them with vision, courage, and a commitment to visit one another to listen and learn and to gather a mutual respect for each other moving forward."

More than 800 people of differet religious denominations attended the event, which included a mass candlelight vigil for 9/11 victims.The theme of cooperation was echoed by Father George Shalhoub of St. Mary's Basilica, an Antochian Orthodox Church in Livonia.

"Bless us as we remember the victims, may their memory become a bridge of understanding, for Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Hindus must love each other as neighbors," he said during his prayer.

"Bless our neighbors, whoever he or she may be."

At the Second Ebeneezer event, Bishop Edgar Vann of the church echoed the message of tolerance and the importance of the religious community sticking together. He partnered with Imam Hassan Al-Qazwini of the Islamic Center of America, who led prayers during both events, and local Jewish leaders, who pledged their support but were unable to attend due to Rosh Hashanah events, to plan the hugely successful event that was held in front of a diverse crowd.

"We were here combating the fear and hatred today, faith conquers fear and hatred and we are against the rising tide of the misunderstanding of the faith of Islam," Vann said.

Victor Begg, the chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan and a director of the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit, was pleased with the turnout and feeling of community the event provided considering the current state of religious communications.

"When people do things like this together, they form bonds and get to know each other better; interfaith events are important because dialogue only works to a certain point," he said.

Begg said he wished the media had simply ignored the antics of divisive, rogue voices of fear and intolerance such as Jones and others, saying that they most likely would have just gone away without the unwarranted attention.

Jennifer Collins, a student at Henry Ford Community College, was in attendance for the Saturday event because of a recommendation from her World Religions teacher Bill Secrest, who also attended.

She was especially moved by the scene which included a lighting of a single candle in remembrance of the 9/11 victims that was used by religious leaders to light their individual candles as well as a mass candle lighting by all community members present. The prayers and speeches by the leaders also struck a chord with her.

"I thought it was good to see so many open-minded people here today and the leaders gave good insight about the Terry Jones situation," she said.

One speech in particular by Al-Qazwini mentioned the paradox of the self-described Christian pastor planning to burn a book, the Qur'an, that mentions Jesus' name 124 times and calls him "the word of God" and "the spirit of God." 

Charles Rooney of Tucson, Arizona, who spends most of his time in Arizona but also stays in Michigan during the summer and early fall months, talked about the importance of such events in the face of ignorance after attending the Saturday prayer service alongside his wife.

"We're here because it's very alarming coming from Arizona the similarities with the southwest and the Mexican immigrants, the amount of anger being directed at Muslims even though there's no real connection to the attackers, who were people who claimed a religion. But the attacks had nothing to do with Islam, it has to do with many other issues," he said.

The religious leaders also told the story of how  Adam Maida, the Archbishop of Detroit for the Catholic Church during 2001, visited with Muslim community leaders the day after the 9/11 attacks to show support and solidarity for the Muslim community.

Rooney said that he wished such visits would be highlighted more often by the media and said he was happy to see a strong Christian response at the event.

After the event, Al-Qazwini had additional words about the 9/11 tragedy and the need to move forward as one united country.

"We as Muslims were deeply saddened by 9/11 just like every other American," he said.

"I also want to point out that Al-Qaeda has killed more Muslims than non-Muslims, and I hope that all of us as Americans would get together and all stand on one national stage without discrimination against each other while facing prejudice, bigotry, and extremism together with strength and unity."

Attending Religious Leaders Included:

Reverend Loren M Scribner,

Grosse Ile Presbyterian Church

Reverend Joseph Summers,

Episcopal Church of The Incarnation

Reverend Thomas W. Healey,

First Congregational Church of Wayne

Father Daron Stepanian,

St. Sarkis Armenian Church

Father. George Baalbaki,

St Mary of Berkley Orthodox Church

Father Jeffrey Day, Ecumenical -

Interfaith Adviser, The Roman Catholic

Arcdiocese of Detroit

Reverend Felix A Lorenz,

St. Paul's United Church of Christ

Reverend William Gepford,

Presbytery of Detroit

Reverend Marshall Dunlap,

Dearborn First United Methodist

Mrs. Nancy Thayer,

Christian Science Church of Birmingham

Reverend Nashan, Wiccan Priest,

High Priest of Corvus Ignus

Reverend Fran Hayes,

Littlefield Presbyterian Church, Dearborn

Father George H. Shalhoub,

St Marys Orthodox Church of Livonia

Father Aaran DePevster,

St Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church

Reverend Robert Hart,

Christ Episcopal Church of Dearborn

Reverend Phil Linton,

Ward Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Novi

Reverend David Kasbow,

Unification Church of Warren

Imam Hassan Qazwini,

Islamic Center of America, Dearborn

Imam Mohammad Elahi,

Islamic House of Wisdom, Dearborn HTS

Sheik Baqir Berry,

Islamic Institute of Knowledge, Dearborn

Imam Brahim Saleh,

Islamic Council of America, Dearborn