Interfaith efforts part of 9/11 anniversary

Interfaith efforts part of 9/11 anniversary

Interfaith services are planned to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, with advocates acknowledging that their work has not been easy but has yielded tangible, if sometimes overlooked, results.

“Religious diversity is a gift,” said the Rev. Chloe Breyer, executive director of the Interfaith Center of New York. “It strengthens the civic fabric of the city.”

President Barack Obama, former President George W. Bush and other officials will attend on 11 September commemoration ceremonies in New York City, where where 2,753 persons were killed after hijacked planes destroyed the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Another 184 people were killed in an attack on the Pentagon and a further 44 when a fourth hijacked jetliner crashed in Pennsylvania. The radical Islamist group al-Qaida took responsibility for the attacks, which focused worldwide attention on Muslims and terrorism.

The Interfaith Center is among a coalition of New York organizations involved in a six-month effort called “Prepare New York” that has sponsored interfaith dialogues in the lead-up to the tenth anniversary.

In an interview with ENInews, Breyer, who is an Episcopal priest, said the course of interfaith work in New York -– one of the most culturally, ethnically and religiously diverse cities in the world -– has sometimes been rough since 2001.

There was tension in the city immediately after terrorist attacks, though that was eclipsed by what Breyer called a “we’re-in-this-together” sentiment that was at least partly due to efforts by religious groups and congregations to promote interfaith understanding.

“I think there was, overall, a positive sense of not just interfaith dialogue but engagement,” she said, though the diversity of those who perished in the twin towers, 60 of them Muslim, for example, has not always been appreciated.

In the past year, a proposed mosque and cultural center near the World Trade Center site generated protests, as did planned mosques in the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Staten Island. However, those protests have since ended. The mosques have gone ahead and the controversy over the cultural center eventually died out, with that project being scaled back.

Breyer said she hopes that eventually the wider U.S. culture will recognize the gifts of Muslims and other religious minorities. She notes that in the 19th and early 20th centuries, anti-Catholic feelings were common in the U.S. but have since faced.

Another interfaith advocate said the efforts of inter-religious engagement remain an “imperative for building bridges across religious boundaries.”

“Interreligious initiatives and efforts will certainly help in overcoming some of the deep-seated misconceptions and stereotypes that people have about other religious traditions,” said Akintunde Akinade, a Nigerian scholar and former New York City resident who teaches theology and interfaith studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Doha, Qatar.

Akinade told ENI: “It is comforting to note that since the horrendous events of 9/11, there has been a great increase in inter-religious activities in the U.S. and all over the globe.”

By Chris Herlinger, Ecumenical News International


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