Valley's interfaith activities increase since 9/11 attacks
Area religions see more interaction and deeper faith.
By D.A. WILKINSON
VINDICATOR RELIGION EDITOR
YOUNGSTOWN -- The 9/11 terrorists called for a holy war, but the Valley's faith commsunities are fighting back with more cooperative and educational programs.
Leaders of the area's Christian, Islamic and Jewish communities came together for services immediately after the attacks. That's being repeated in events for the one-year anniversary that stress tolerance and greater spiritual involvement.
Events include an open house at the Islamic Society of Greater Youngstown, and a series of events hosted by the Mahoning Valley Association of Churches.
Dr. Mustansir Mir, the spokesman for the society and professor of Islamic studies at Youngstown State University, said it's "imperative that all Americans come together on the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks to show that the people of this country are united as a nation and to reject efforts by any parties, whether overseas or within our borders, to divide the United States along religious or ethnic lines.
"The members of the country's Muslim communities join their fellow citizens in mourning those who were killed or injured on that fateful day," Mir said.
"The Islamic Society of Greater Youngstown supports the various events and activities that are planned in the Mahoning Valley and in other parts of the United States to commemorate the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001."
Show of tolerance
Visitors can meet with members of the Islamic community during the open house from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the center at 1670 Homewood Ave. Mir will make a presentation at 6 p.m.
Mir said that as far as he knew, there had been no anger or discrimination against local Muslims since the attacks. The educator credited that to the "American ethos of tolerance."
After 9/11, people quickly began reading about Islam, he said.
"They reacted and asked questions in response to changing circumstances, and they tried to learn more about it, and tried to make a creative response to it," Mir said.
Elsie Dursi, the executive director of the MVAC, said that can be seen by "how easily we go in and out of each other's houses of worship."
She is bringing in the Presbyterian Church USA's Interfaith Listening Project from Friday through Sept. 17, which consists of two men from the west African country of Niger: Alio Mahaman, a Muslim, a university history teacher, and Hassane Dan-Karami, a Christian government worker.
Muslims are 98 percent of Niger's population. Dan-Karami is a Muslim who converted to Christianity.
The Valley's mostly Christian residents who hear their talks may be able to get a new understanding of tolerance if they are able to imagine not being the majority religion, Dursi said. People may also be able to understand how people are similar and different.
Some of the events include a memorial service for all victims of terrorism at 7 p.m. Friday at the Arab Community Center, 15 Belgrade Ave., Liberty; a service at 9:15 a.m. Saturday at Ohev Tzedek-Shaarei Torah Congregation, 5245 Glenwood Ave., Boardman; prayers at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Youngstown Islamic Center, 131 W. Woodland Ave., and a catered dinner with required reservations and a panel discussion with representatives of the local Jewish and Islamic populations at noon Sept. 15 at First Presbyterian Church, 201 Wick Ave.
Dursi also hopes the programs will allow people to go "deeper into their faith and see what it teaches about other people."
Helping people of all faiths learn to relate to one another is a good thing, said Dursi: "We think you can't have too much of that."
The Rev. John S. Horner is pastor of St. John's Episcopal Church, 323 Wick Ave., and head of the deanery that includes 12 churches ranging from Warren to Steubenville. He is having a combined service of those churches at St. John's at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
"I feel something deep has changed in our lives," the Rev. Mr. Horner said.
Some people are still living in isolation despite the global focus that followed 9/11, which is one reason he's pulling the churches together.
"Religion means 'to belong,' " said the pastor.
Scripture says that Abraham was the father of both the Judeo-Christian and Islamic faiths.
Mr. Horner said, "If [people] go to the depths of their faith, they can discover they have far more in common than they realized."
Bonnie Deutsch Burdman, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, said that the Sept. 11 attacks and continued fighting in the holy land have definitely increased awareness in the Jewish community.
Many of her generation are too young to remember the Arab-Israeli fighting of the 1960s and 1970s that helped shape the current Middle East tensions.
Before 9/11, the biggest argument in the international Jewish community was whether observant or more secular Jewish were truly Jewish.
"That's not even on the radar," Burdman said. "A new reality set in."
Hundreds of people have attended pro-Israel events at the center, as compared to similar events a few years ago that might have drawn 100 people, she said.
And if there is a commonality in suffering, there is also a commonality in faith. The JCRC, with the MVAC, is sponsoring an interfaith remembrance service starting at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday at Chapel of Friendly Bells in Trinity United Methodist Church, 30 W. Front St.
There will be a moment of silence at 8:45 a.m., the time when the first plane hit the World Trade Center.
That moment is similar to the silence observed every year during Israel's Independence Day, when the entire country stops for two minutes, Burdman noted.
Those in the chapel at that moment, said Burdman, "can think about where we are and where we are going, where we have been and where we should look toward the future."