Leading Catholics, evangelicals, mainline Protestants, Muslims, Jews and Sikhs celebrate nation’s unique religious diversity during moving September 11th commemoration
(Washington DC, Sept 8, 2011) One year ago, prominent religious leaders from across the country organized an emergency interreligious summit to address the faith community’s response to the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment during the height of controversies over an Islamic center near Ground Zero and Terry Jones’ threats to burn the Qur’an. Today, that same diverse group of religious leaders reconvened to celebrate the American faith community’s role in uniting a nation still struggling to overcome the fear and division that has defined the decade since the September 11th terrorist attacks.
“Ten years ago, the terrorists offered us a stark view of the world they would create, where the remedy to every human grievance and injustice is violence and oppression,” said Rev. Jim Wallis, CEO of Sojourners. “Every act of tolerance, compassion, justice, and respect for the sacredness of human life is an act of resistance against terrorism. America must be a safe place for all our citizens in all their diversity. When we protect and respect those who share national origins, ethnicity, or religion with those who attacked us, we model for the world the best America has to offer.”
The religious leaders came together at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. to remember the September 11th tragedy and recognize efforts by the faith community to ensure that all Americans are free to worship however they desire. The setting was significant – the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church is the same church in which President Abraham Lincoln sought spiritual comfort and guidance as he worked to unify the country in the midst of the Civil War. The religious leaders who gathered here today were inspired by the example of Dr. Phineas D. Gurley (pastor of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church during Lincoln’s presidency, who worked with Lincoln to ensure all Americans would be treated fairly) to continue their effort to end discrimination against Muslims.
During the event, the religious leaders mourned victims of all faiths from the September 11th attacks and recognized efforts by four faith organizations across the country that have stood out in their efforts to end anti-Muslim sentiment. The leaders recognized efforts in Arlington Heights, Illinois; Boise, Idaho; Corvallis, Oregon; and Detroit, Michigan. In each community, religious groups have stood up for one another in the face of opposition, protected one another after acts of hatred and arson, inspired a new generation of interfaith advocates, and have worked together to build a better community through joint service projects.
“We honor these communities because they express the values we share as Americans, and the commitment we have to each other as a human family,” said Imam Mohamed Magid, president of the Islamic Society of North America. “These communities took a stand for respect and understanding for people of other faiths, and answered fear and mistrust with love and acceptance. As we remember the horrific tragedy of ten years ago, we look to their example to build a better future.”
The families and friends of Nurul H. Miah and Shakila Yasmin Miah, Muslim newlyweds who worked on the 93rd and 97th floors, respectively, of the World Trade Center’s Tower One building, attended today’s gathering. The religious leaders also honored Mohammed Salman Hamdani, an American Muslim and good Samaritan who died while helping to rescue people at the World Trade Center.
“If we have learned anything in the decade since September 11, it is that we are strongest as Americans when we are one nation under God, indivisible,” said Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, director of the Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue at the Jewish Theological Seminary. “Muslims have always been part of the fabric of America, and we celebrate our strength in diversity, standing shoulder to shoulder.”
The religious leaders in attendance included the national heads of numerous denominations and faith groups representing Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh faiths. The leaders represent the same denominations and faith groups that stood in solidarity on September 7, 2010, in addition to several other faith groups. In response to the continued Islamophobia throughout this past year, the faith community has launched Shoulder to Shoulder: Standing with American Muslims; Upholding American Values, a campaign comprising 26 national religious, faith-based and interfaith organizations that have pledged to work together to promote acceptance and understanding and to work to end anti-Muslim bigotry.
“We have reached the point of crisis in this country as some among us choose to use religion to divide us rather than bring us together by purposely misrepresenting the beliefs and practices of others. That intolerance is unacceptable in a pluralistic society,” said the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of Interfaith Alliance. “The diverse coalition that has come together for this project – standing shoulder to shoulder – is proof that the hateful rhetoric we hear from a vocal minority does not represent what is in the hearts of most Americans.”
“A great people and a great nation do not let their brothers and sisters suffer from bigotry and persecution,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “Our Muslim brothers and sisters suffer exactly that in all corners of this great country of ours. Today is a day to stand up and say – We have had enough. This is not the America we love. We will do whatever it takes to end the prejudice.”
To conclude today’s gathering, the leaders read from a joint declaration signed by all clergy present. In the declaration, the religious leaders recommitted the faith community to the “inspiring spirit of unity and cooperation that we, as a people, embraced in the weeks after the tragedy,” and called on all houses of worship to join as they “stand up for hope, unity and healing.”
The leaders together wrote, “Fear-based politics and discrimination against Muslim Americans and those simply perceived to be Muslim disgrace the memories of those who perished on September 11, and desecrate the core values that make our nation great. The presence in America of people of all faiths and belief systems enriches our diverse country. The ideals that unite us are more powerful that the differences that divide us.”
A full copy of the Shoulder to Shoulder statement is included below. For more information about the religious leaders and faith groups that comprise Shoulder to Shoulder, please visit the campaign’s