GUESTVIEW: Mumbai violence brings New York faith groups together

By Reuters Staff
December 2, 2008

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. Matthew Weiner, the author, is the Program Director at the Interfaith Center of New York. He is writing a book about Interfaith and Civil Society.

When terror attacks like those in Mumbai occur, many people of faith want to stand together despite their differences to condemn them with one voice. Faith leaders in New York, having seen their own city targetted in 2001, quickly responded with a show of support for their sister city in India. Their news conference on the steps of New York’s City Hall on Monday was an example of how faith communities in the world’s most religiously diverse metropolis can join hands to speak out against such violence.

(Photo: New York interfaith meeting, 1 Dec 2008/Edwin E. Bobrow)

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, senior vice-president of the New York Board of Rabbis, Mo Razvi, a Pakistani-American Muslim and community organizer, and the Interfaith Center of New York organized the meeting while Councilman John Liu got the green light to use City Hall as the venue. Potasnick worked through Thanksgiving weekend to make it happen and insisted on having representatives from every faith. “It is very important to condemn the attacks…but it is imperative we stand together with one voice,” he said.

Indeed almost everyone was there. Imam Shamsi Ali of the Islamic Cultural Center of New York spoke condemned the attacks by Muslim extremists as un-Islamic. Jaspreet Singh of the United Sikhs spoke on behalf of a community rooted in the Indian Subcontinent. Imam Syed Sayeed, a Muslim from India and longtime New Yorker, recalled his homeland has been a religiously plural place for thousands of years. Ven. Kondannya of the New York Buddhist Council called for a non-violent response to the attacks, as did Jain community representative Naresh Jain, who lost a friend in the killing. Members of Chabad, the Brooklyn-based Hasidic community who lost a rabbi in the attacks, were also present.

Dr. Uma Mysorekar, president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America, said she had trained in a Mumbai hospital that treated many victims and remembered the discussions that students of different faiths used to have there. “In Mumbai now, they are getting back to work,” she said. “This is all we can do. It is what the terrorists want to stop us from doing.” Dr. Mysorekar had held a prayer service with Mayor Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn just hours after the attack and prayers have continued at her temple in Queens ever since.

(Photo: Taj Mahal hotel, Mumbai, 27 Nov 2008/Punit Paranjpe)

“We know how hard it is to build relationships across difference in times of crisis, and our hearts go out to Mumbai,” Said Rev. Chloe Breyer, the Executive Director at the Interfaith Center of New York. In fact, it was not easy to assemble members of all the main religions represented in Mumbai; in the rush to arrange the meeting, we could not contact the Zoroastrians in time. But how often do Hindu, Ultra Orthodox Jewish and Muslim leaders get together?

Actually, they get together more often than one would think. Potasnik and Mysorekar first met at an Interfaith Center news conference two days after 9/11. It was there that Mysoekar witnessed the courage of a dozen Muslim leaders denouncing those attacks and realized how interfaith contacts could help keep the peace. She invited a Muslim speaker to her Hindu program in Queens, which did not go over all too well among some of her more conservative members.

In the years since then, many of these faith leaders have met regularly despite reservations in their own communities. Monday’s press conference was not be held at Mysorekar’s temple in part from fear the Orthodox Jews would be uncomfortable. Many Muslim leaders were invited but there are serious tensions among some of them and the Jewish leadership in this city, tensions that will not go away with this small victory. But the day-to-day ties forged since 9/11 helped assemble this interfaith group quickly to respond to the Mumbai violence. To date 13 different local Muslim organizations have condemned the Mumbai attacks.

(Photo: World Trade Center, New York, 11 Sept 2001/Brad Rickerby)

On Wednesday, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Interfaith Center plan a program in Queens with mostly Hindu and Jewish groups (including an Indian Jewish congregation). Dr. Mysorekar wants to hold another program at her temple and all will be invited. The work of interfaith dialogue in the world’s most religiously diverse city goes on.

10 comments

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Jesus Christ never meant for His true followers to get involved in so-called “interfaith” groupings. That defeats the purpose for why He came 2,000 years ago in the first place…….Warnings About Antichristshttp://www.youtube.com/watch? v=R9mnRqQ-bRwMatthew 24:3-5 (NIV) — “As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

Interesting that the first comment here was by someone who sees faith and religion in essentially divisive terms. I would not want to speculate about Jesus’s opinion about interfaith dialogue–can leave that for someone else, indeed perhaps a “good samaritan” can enlighten us. But surely good intentions and compassionate interactions are required of loving hearts, be they Jewish, Muslim or Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or other.These photo ops are not easy exercises in Kumbaya. We all have different perspectives, interests and views. The Quran reminds us that human diversity was created to teach humanity. Let us look at that diversity not as a threat but as a beautiful challenge. Imperfect and incomplete as dialogue may be, the alternative is much more hurtful. Peace to YOU.

Posted by Pavel | Report as abusive

This comment by Anonymous is an excellent example of religious fundamentalism — this time Christian fundamentalism. Time to call a spade a spade, Christian, Muslim or Hindu.

Posted by max factor | Report as abusive

Max,Touch your heart & tell me who can blow us up christians,Hindus,Jews or Muslims ?. Any terrorist attack from railway station to shopping malls to hotels to parliament houses ? Which country perpetuate this & which religion glorifies this ?.

Posted by Vijay | Report as abusive

The answer to Vijay: any humanely devoid mentally challenged person! Terrorism is not an act condoned by any known religion. Nor is ‘jihad’ limited to Muslims. Learn more about it, how else do you explain your own mythology Mahabharat? It does take many forms, killing the father of the nation, or state sponsored attacks after Godhra incident, or invasion of nations based on false pretexts.

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

Anonymous,Did you know before the godhra attack pilgrims were burnt & they had scarred body which led to this retaliation ? I am not justifying what has happened, but i can promise you 10 people if they have shot people indiscriminately means they were made to hate human beings so much that i can’t dream any religion can do such a thing in todays world ? My question was probability of odds that a terror attack which religious group will you be more unsafe with ?

Posted by Vijay | Report as abusive

@ anonymous, everyone are in their senses, its you who is mentally challenged !! Mahabharat is not a war for enforcing religion nor did that war spread to kill innocents, father of nation was not assasinated because of his religion but in national interest. If that father of nation had not allowed to partition at that time..US didn’t had to invade spend billions of dollars today to fight terror camps in pakistan today. Nor there would have been a mumbai incident happened.

Posted by Om | Report as abusive

It is true that we are currently living in a time when the majority of “religion” affiliated violence in the world is Muslim. At other times in the past it was Christian. And on a smaller scale, in more local regions, we can observe ebbs and flows of violence being done by members of various religions–some less than others, some more.What is most important for us all, though, is to respond to all hatred and evil in the same way: by remaining true to God’s teachings of goodness–to seek justice instead of vengeance, to increase peace in the world, and to love others as we love ourselves. We will only overcome evil by increasing goodness.

Posted by Lyone | Report as abusive

The teacher says – it is not about who is right and who is wrong, it is about doing the right thing…If what we are doing is NOT the right thing, it has NO place in our life.It doesn’t take great logic to realise that killing is NOT the right thing.The problem is we don’t allow even small logic to prevail when we’re riled. The gut can’t answer to logic, y’know. It is about instinct. And before we know it, we’re on a path of no return.The christ did not preach christianty, that came after his death. The prophet preached faith and introspection and right conduct. Islam is rather different from his faith. Sikhism says do not worship idols, find the spirit within you, call it allah or god or christ. Or just call it the supreme truth. But today sikhism too is mired in iconoclasty.We’re the geniuses who dumb down the great truth to our limited understanding – and self-centred purposes. Rather than set out to change the world, we have to change ourselves. Let us be virtuous at the risk of being boring. & pl forgive the preachiness of this note – my heart is heavy…

Posted by hari | Report as abusive

Rabindranath Tagore said :”Every child comes with the message that God is not disappointed with man!”An Urdu Poet has said,”It is to show ‘empathy’ to the sufferinghumanity, God has created man.Otherwise to carry out His commandments He has an army of angels!”Thus, when someone in some part of the globe is bereaved, we hasten to condole the death of his kin and offer solace to the grieved.The living only prefer the barricades of religion for identity and survival.The soul remains free from all blemishes,hence, it is deemed sacred by all irrespective of differences of religion!How nice it would be if the living start respecting the “soul’” in the other living being and eschew from injuring or killing a fellow being!

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive