American Peace Caravan’s Morocco conference participants included (l to r) Pastor Rich Wilkerson, Pastor Danny Prada, Rabbi Lauren Berkun, Sahar Samra, Imam Dr. Abdul Hamid Samra, Rabbi Lyle S. Rothman (Photo courtesy of Rabbi Lyle S. Rothman)

Multi-faith Effort Fights Violence and Extremism at Local Level

Morocco conference shapes global-local program

In an unambiguous repudiation of violence in the aftermath of the vehicular attack in New York City that left eight dead, clergy from across the religious spectrum participated in a conference in the Moroccan capital aimed at tackling both the divides between religious groups and acts of extremism, directed at the local level.

Stressing the importance of preventing terrorists from driving a wedge between people, Dr. Ab-dul Hamid Samra, Imam and Director of Religious Services at MCA’s Islamic Center of Greater Miami (ICGM) in Miami Gardens, Florida, expressed his unconditional condemnation of the “horrific and cowardly attack in Manhattan,” in a statement to The Media Line, admonishing that, “Since the goal of such heinous crimes is to divide our nation, it is incumbent on Americans of all faiths and backgrounds to frustrate that criminal objective by standing united in the face of terror.”

Samra, along with fellow clergy from his region, participated in a three-day conference in Rabat, Morocco, organized by the American Peace Caravan as a part of the Forum for Peace. The program has brought together religious leaders of all Abrahamic faiths to discuss building bridges in their own communities and across the world.

Five faith leaders from South Florida flew to Rabat in October for the event which highlighted the urgent need to hold such gatherings in a time marked by rising extremism and religious violence.

“I tell you, this time is truly difficult times and there is no other way than to work together and to know each other,” said Samra, who was the dean of engineering at a private university in Syria from 2006 to 2012, but was forced to leave when civil war broke out.

The conference was created in the age of global terrorism, such as the recent attack on a Baptist church in Texas and the slaughter on a lower Manhattan bike path that was allegedly inspired by ISIS videos according to the criminal complaint against the man who carried out the act.

Rothman said it falls under his responsibility as a religious leader to call out “evil” in times such as this. But, he also highlighted that he can only speak to his own faith tradition.

“It is the Muslim community’s responsibility to say ‘Well that’s not what Islam teaches’,” he said, “But it is also my responsibility to say what can we as a community do to not place blame on all Muslims.”

In fact, about eight-in-ten Muslims in the United States (82%) say they are either very or somewhat concerned about extremism committed in the name of Islam around the world which is comparable to 83% of the general population sharing the same sentiment according to the Pew Research Center.

Rothman, the Jewish Chaplain at the University of Miami, also said the conversation has to be elevated to emphasize solutions to the division’s people of different faiths face.

The conference grew out of the Marrakesh Declaration, signed in January 2016 by more than 250 Muslim religious leaders, heads of state and scholars who joined together to champion the rights of religious minorities in predominantly Muslim countries.

Morocco, which has historically been a place of religious intersection under King Muhammad VI, vowed to host the conference.

“There’s harmony amongst different religions there,” said Rabbi M. Bruce Lustig, Senior Rabbi at Washington Hebrew Congregation, who also attended the parley. He told The Media Line that, “Both present leadership and past leadership considered this an important value for their people and it is reflected in the people of Morocco, they are very open and welcoming.”

The conference’s aim was to begin the historic revival of the objectives of the Charter of Medina in the modern world. It also set out to tackle and pioneer a broad-based movement of protecting religious minorities in Muslim lands.

In the United States, Islam and Judaism are considered minority religions. Muslims make up 0.9% of the population and 1.6% of the population identify with Judaism as their religion.

The Caravan brings together triads of Jewish rabbis, Christian pastors and Muslim imams from different cities across the United States for workshops and brainstorming sessions to gain a better understanding of one another and to cross the proverbial lines often drawn in the sand. And that is what seems to be different about this effort as it seeks to organically garden a network in local areas starting at the very core of human connection.

One of the changes discussed at the conference was a simple term change. Instead of the word “interfaith” leadership pushed for a shift to the phrase “multi-faith.”

“They are trying to say whatever your religion is, you should believe what your religion says we are not trying to change the beliefs of a religion,” Rothman said, “What we are trying to do is bring people together to be able to change the world.”

The American Peace Caravan provided faith triads from 20 cities across the United States with a plan to build a multi-faith community in their own backyard. Both Rothman and Samra say a plan is already in motion to create a network that focuses on the commonalities among the reli-gions.

“God does not want us to kill each other, does not want to fight each other. God wants us to love one another, to not only have tolerance but respect,” Samra said.

The next official gathering of the Caravan will be in February 2018 at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. Where local faith communities can come together and engage in multi-faith discourse on a national scale.

KAYLA HALEY is a student journalist at The Media Line representing the University of Miami.


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