From Fear of Islam to Outreach


From fear of Islam to outreach: how 9/11 prompted interfaith efforts

 In the decade since 9/11, the percentage of US congregations that participate in interfaith worship has doubled, a study says, and more mosques are engaging in outreach and dialogue.

By Patrick Wall,

New YorkAfter the deadly attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the first person Rabbi Ted Falcon called was his friend, Sheikh Jamal Rahman, a Sufi imam. On the following Sabbath, the rabbi invited the imam to his Seattle synagogue to speak to the congregation.


Soon after, the two spiritual leaders, along with Pastor Don Mackenzie, commenced a series of frank conversations about their beliefs, both shared and exclusive. The talks eventually inspired a radio show, a pair of books, and worldwide speaking tours.The men’s willingness to ask and answer tough questions about faith in the wake of 9/11 had clearly struck a nerve with many Americans. In particular, many people wanted to talk about a religion they had barely considered before the attacks, but which now consumed their thoughts: Islam.

“One of the things that 9/11 showed was that, generally speaking, Americans had an abysmal ignorance of Islam,” says Mr. Falcon, who founded his Bet Aleph Meditative Synagogue in the 1990s.

In the decade since 9/11, despite some Americans’ fears of and hostility toward Islam, many individuals and institutions have followed the path of the rabbi, the pastor, and the imam: They’ve reached out across faiths to increase their understanding and to address common concerns.Over the past 10 years, the percentage of US congregations involved in interfaith worship has doubled – from 7 to 14 percent. Meanwhile, the percentage of congregations performing interfaith community service nearly tripled – from 8 to almost 21 percent – according to a new survey byHartford Seminary’s Institute for Religion Research in Connecticut. In doing so, these congregations have joined the colorful, decades-old American interfaith movement. Since 9/11, the movement has gained new momentum and, more than ever before, has drawn Muslims into its ranks.As America marks the 10th anniversary of 9/11, several interfaith events are planned around the country, including, prominently, the 9/11 Unity Walk in Washington, D.C.“To think about 9/11 without thinking about the interfaith movement would almost be a travesty,” says Maureen Fiedler, host of “Interfaith Voices,” a nationally syndicated radio program that was created in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks.“Islam was so misunderstood and so vilified by those events,” says Ms. Fiedler, “that a real interfaith understanding has to be brought to bear on the issue.”In the days and weeks after 9/11, when Muslim extremists killed nearly 3,000 civilians, some Americans came to view Islam itself as the enemy. Around the country, mosques were vandalized, people who appeared Muslim or Middle Eastern were harassed and, in Arizona, a Sikh man who was wearing a turban was mistaken for a Muslim and shot and killed.n recent years, anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States has diminished, but not disappeared. A proposal to build a Muslim community center near the World Trade Center site provoked heated protests last year. This year, Congress held controversial hearings on Muslim radicalization within the US.Curiosity about IslamWhile America’s post-9/11 Islam fixation filled some people with dread, others were filled with curiosity.“Many people realized, maybe for the first time, that, ‘Hey, there are mosques in our town,’ ” says Diana Eck, a comparative religion professor at Harvard University and director of the Pluralism Project, which documents America’s religious landscape.As interest in American Muslims surged, many Muslim leaders went to great lengths to explain Islam to outsiders and to develop partnerships beyond the Muslim community – often, for the first time.“Before 9/11, most mosques were fairly insular. Today, most mosques, if not all, have intensive programs of reaching out and having dialogues,” says Sheikh Rahman, who helped found the Interfaith Community Church in Seattle.In the weeks immediately after Sept. 11, mosques and Islamic community centers around the country held open houses. Then, in 2008, a multinational group of 138 Muslim scholars, called Common Word, invited senior Christian leaders to Yale University to discuss commonalities among their faiths.Real-world collaborationInterfaith interaction can sometimes amount to little more than religious show-and-tell: you show me your strange rituals, and I’ll show you mine. But often, the theological icebreaking leads to real-world collaboration.In Seattle, Falcon, Rahman and Pastor Mackenzie, who lecture and publish as the Interfaith Amigos, decided to turn their talk into action. They joined various interfaith service projects – including one where the men worked with the congregants of an evangelical megachurch to build a Habitat for Humanity home for a Muslim family.In an area of Brooklyn, New York known as “Little Pakistan,” a local entrepreneur founded a nonprofit agency in early 2002 to serve low-income South Asians and Muslims, including many who were detained after 9/11.Since then, the group has expanded its mission to serve non-Muslims and has worked with Jewish and Christian leaders on several initiatives, including a public health campaign, hate crime prevention, and youth leadership training. In August, the group honored rabbis and pastors at a series of public iftar dinners during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.Successful interfaith coalitions must focus on shared concerns, rather than theological differences, says Mohammad Razvi, founder of the Brooklyn nonprofit, known as the Council of Peoples Organization.“It’s not a Kumbaya dialogue,” says Mr. Razvi. “We’re working on serious issues, concrete issues, [so] that we can actually have accomplishments.” to read the entire article Visit The Christian Science Monitor