GUESTVIEW: Mumbai violence brings New York faith groups together
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.