Methodist Church ’s Interfaith Dinner Draws Large Crowd
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
Pictures above: Glimpses of the interfaith meeting at the Methodist Church, Campbell, California on September 11
American Muslim Voice and other Muslim and faith groups joined the United Methodist Church, Campbell, CA, members for dinner and dialogue on September 11. The Campbell Church has been sponsoring the 9/11 interfaith dinners for the last five years but this year the event had acquired a special significance because of the intensive campaign against the seven-million strong Muslim community sparked by the opposition to the planned Park51 project on Manhattan Island, in New York, popularly known as the Ground Zero Mosque.
The dinner was aimed at breaking bread together, build better relationships and to reflect on issues relating to the Muslim and interfaith communities.
Campbell Church members were hosts at each table. Muslims were invited to share experiences and concerns that remain following the events of September 11, 2001. Not surprisingly, two hot issues which have raised much anti-Muslim sentiments, were the so-called Ground Zero Mosque and the abortive plan to burn Islam’s Holy book, the Qu’ran by a small church in Gainesville, Florida.
Campbell Church Pastor Rev. Alan Jones and Dr. Fatih Saragoz of the Pacifica Institute, a Turkish Muslim community group, welcomed the guests while Rev. Ann Hayes of the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment offered a prayer of thanks for the food, which had been prepared by church members.
The food was all halal, kosher, and vegetarian, so that most religious groups could share it.
After the soup course, a leader from the Muslim community chanted the call to prayer (Azan), and then most of the guests went to the Chapel to share in the evening ( Maghreb) Muslim prayer. It was an emotional scene when Christians, Jews, Muslims and others stood shoulder-to-shoulder facing the back of the Chapel, in the direction of Kaaba ( Mecca). A Catholic nun stood next to a Jewish woman, with Muslim women wearing hijab next to them on both sides.
Another feature of the event was presentation of a peace song on guitar by Pastor Luan Roberts. During the dinner she entertained the guests with the popular Peace Train song of Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam:
Now I've been happy lately, thinking about the good things to come
And I believe it could be, something good has begun
Oh I've been smiling lately, dreaming about the world as one
And I believe it could be, something good's bound to come
For out on the edge of darkness, there runs the peace train
Oh peace train take this country, come take me home again
After the dinner all the guests moved to the Sanctuary of the church where several people shared personal stories of pain and discrimination after 9/11. Others offered expressions of support and care.
The evening concluded with a time of prayer. There was an extended period of silence for personal reflection.
On behalf of the Muslim community, Samina Sundas, Executive Director of the American Muslim Voice, thanked Pastor Jones for sponsoring the great event. Samina said that she was happy that many ethnic and religious groups were supporting the American Muslims in the post-9/11 era when extreme right and opportunist religious and political leaders had launched a systematic hate campaign.
Rev. Alan Jones said the evening was a transformational event. “Lives were changed. Healing happened. Barriers were broken down. Faith was shared and everyone was celebrated.”
Church leaders back Muslim community
The United Methodist Church interfaith dinner followed a joint press conference by Christian and Jewish faith leaders at the First Baptist Church in Palo Alto to express their support for the Muslim community and urge people of all faiths to practice tolerance. They also denounced the plan to burn the Holy Qur’an by Pastor Terry Jones of a nondenominational Christian group, the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida.
The Council of Churches of Santa Clara County teamed up with The Interfaith Council on Economics and Justice, Southbay Interfaith Voices and interfaith and inter-community groups to promote this gathering on September 8
Speakers at the press conference included Rev. Randle (Rick) Mixon, First Baptist Church of Palo Alto; Rabbi Sheldon Lewis, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto; Rev. D. Andrew Kille,Director of Interfaith Space in San Jose; Rev. Dr. Diana Gibson of Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice, Rev. Rebecca Kuiken, Executive Director of Interfaith Council for Economics and Justice; Jethroe Moore, E.D. Silicon Valley/San Jose NAACP; Bhawana Kamil,President of the Bay Area Chapter of theMuslim American Society; Ameena Jandali, Islamic Network Group; Samina Sundas, founding executive director of the American Muslim Voice and Imam Aladdin El-Bakri of the West Valley Muslim Association in Saratoga.
Rev. Randle Mixon said he believed so deeply in the Christian tradition that God is a God of love; Jesus is a prince of peace. “There is no room for hatred; there is no room for bigotry; there is no room for the kind of prejudice we've been seeing. It's really appalling that it comes from Christians," he said.