Compiled by Sharon Wisch-Ray
Arlington Interfaith Consortium aims to create ties that bind
It was a match made in heaven. Perhaps literally!
When Cantor Sheri Allen, Dina Malki and Ruth Foster met a year ago at a Daughters of Abraham meeting (a monthly interfaith group of Muslim, Christian and Jewish women seeking to learn more about each other’s traditions), they could never have predicted where their friendship would lead them.
After a Daughters meeting at Ruth Foster’s church, Shepherd of Life in Arlington, Ruth introduced Sheri and Dina to her husband, John Foster, pastor of Shepherd of Life, who had big plans in mind. For a long time, Pastor Foster had wanted to coordinate an interfaith prayer service for the Arlington community, and asked Sheri, the cantor of Congregation Beth Shalom, and Dina, a public speaker, teacher, writer and interfaith coordinator for Al-Hedayah Islamic Center, if they wanted to collaborate in this effort.
Over the next year, they gathered a committee together and began to brainstorm. The fruit of their labors resulted in the first of what they hope to be many interfaith programs. “Our Neighbors, Our Extended Families: A Gathering of Friendship and Fellowship” took place on the Sunday before Thanksgiving at the Al-Hedayah Islamic Center in Fort Worth. Originally projecting that around 20 members of each of their congregations would show up, they were overwhelmed by the attendance of close to 150 people.
Al-Hedayah members greeted each attendee with chocolates and welcomed them into their social hall, where they helped themselves to delicious food and were assigned to tables in order to socialize and introduce themselves to each other before the formal event began. Dr. Nizam Peerwani, president of the Islamic Center, graciously welcomed everyone, and guest Sheikh Salah El Tayyer beautifully chanted several verses from the Qur’an. A panel discussion followed, and Pastor Foster, Cantor Allen, and Emad Hamdan, an Islamic scholar who regularly delivers Friday sermons in local area mosques, were asked to explain how each of their faith traditions honored neighbors. The same question and a few others as well were then posed to the audience, who discussed their experiences reaching out to neighbors and being welcomed themselves. A question-and-answer session with the panel leaders followed, and interfaith prayers for peace were offered by all three panelists. The program concluded with a tour of the mosque and observation of a Muslim prayer service.
Participants left with a sense of hope for the future. In light of the increase in anti-Semitic and xenophobic acts since the presidential election, many felt invigorated and grateful that they could come together in a safe place and express their support for one another. Remarked Pastor Foster, “I didn’t realize how much I needed this.”
The feeling seemed to be mutual. Attendees expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to begin this interfaith dialogue, and were excited to hear about what will happen next.
Amy Keller of Shepherd of Life remarked, “I had a wonderful time of fellowship, hospitality, and education at Al-Hedayah Mosque with neighbors of the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian faith. It was so well-organized and welcoming! We even got a tour of the mosque including their prayer room. We took off our shoes and we women covered our hair in respect for the Muslim faith tradition of modesty. I’m so blessed to be in a congregation that encourages reaching out to our brothers and sisters of all faiths! I look forward to more of these opportunities!”
Indeed opportunities to pray, learn, and work together on social action projects will follow and, perhaps most importantly, friendships will deepen. Ms. Malki observed, “I have always had a dream to build bridges of communication and understanding between my Muslim American community and the at-large American community. I have spent more than a decade educating the public about Islam and explaining my faith to others to try to erase their fears and nourish their hearts with peace. What happened last Sunday was more than I ever asked for. It was a blessing from God. Love, compassion, friendship and serenity grew inside that building and instead of building bridges between communities we all became one community.”
Cantor Allen added, “It’s our hope that our fledgling Arlington Interfaith Consortium will foster greater compassion, respect and understanding.”
And that’s something we can all believe in.
— Submitted by Sheri Allen
Congregation Beth Israel to participate in Dec. 10 interfaith event
Clergy from three religions — Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker of Congregation Beth Israel, Father Richard Eldredge of Good Shepherd Catholic Church and Pastor Nick Billardello of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church, and Imam Yahya of the Islamic Center of Southlake — will speak briefly about the basic principles and tenets of their respective religions, with the focus of the event being the question-and-answer session with the audience. The program will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10 at the Islamic Center of Southlake, 1280 North Carroll Ave.
“I have had many people ask me in the past few weeks what we can do to bring people together and create a greater sense of unity in our community and our nation after the election. This event, which brings together members of different religious traditions and offers curiosity and questions and understanding, is an important opportunity for unity. I hope you will join us on Saturday evening,” wrote Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker in an email to the community.