A little over a year ago I wrote a message as Chair of the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN), concluding with the following:
"In addition to our prayers for peace and for the victims of terrorism and war, I believe that the interfaith community has a responsibility to help prevent inappropriate acts of discrimination and blaming. I have been concerned about 'scapegoating' of Muslims and people of other faiths. We must raise our voices to insist that innocent people not be blamed or made to suffer for the actions of people who have no connection with them. As members of the NAIN network we can promote understanding of all the world's religions, and the acceptance of differences in culture and traditions."
Those words are still true today. At our recent NAIN conference in Wichita, Kansas, many members of local interfaith organizations reported on increased interest from their communities to learn more about the Muslim faith and other faiths. People are realizing that, while each religion has its own history, faith, beliefs and practices, none-the-less we have much in common so that the more we learn of each other's beliefs and practices, the more likely we are to work together in peace.
Many organizations held prayer services following the September 11 attacks, praying together, as persons of different faiths, for peace and for the victims of terrorism, and together we have a common bond which binds us as citizens of the world.
Yet we still have the concern that innocent people, and in particular followers of Islam, have been the victims of "scapegoating". Interfaith organizations have a responsibility to support those who have faced discrimination and to work to prevent it. We have much experience in promoting understanding of the faiths of our neighbours, and we can be an example to the people of our communities in expressing our care and support for those who face discrimination.
While most groups will mark September 11, 2002 with prayers and actions of support for each other, there are other times of the year at which it will be appropriate to formally take a stand against racism and for inter-religious harmony. I think particularly of March 21, the United Nations-sponsored International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
This date was established by the United Nations in 1966 to remind the world of the massacre in Sharpeville, South Africa, in 1960 when police opened fire on hundreds of peaceful demonstrators against Apartheid passbook laws, killing 67 and wounding 186. Many nations have adopted that date as a time for special prayers for peace and for the elimination of racial discrimination in their communities and around the world.
One example of taking a stand March 21 happens in Edmonton, Alberta, where the Edmonton Interfaith Centre for Education and Action has held a public prayer service at the City Hall for ten years, with up to fourteen world religions offering prayers for the elimination of racism. Each group prays in their own tradition, in words, song, chants, dance, or silence, with representatives generally wearing their traditional worship garb.
Events such as these are a powerful witness to the unity which we have as people of faith, and our concern to help our communities remove the blight of racism from our midst - throughout the year.
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