Above: Audrey Galex and Soumaya Khalifa listen as Rabbi David Spinrad of The Temple explains the holiness of the room and thus the need to remove shoes during the interfaith rally for peace at Mercer University on Sunday, Dec. 6.
At least 50 Muslims, Jews and Christians gathered in a lecture hall at Mercer University’s Atlanta campus Sunday afternoon, Dec. 6, to share a simple message in light of recent acts of terrorism at home and abroad and the resulting increase in religious tensions:
“We refuse to be enemies.”
The one-hour event, whose sponsors included The Temple, the Bridge Interfaith Alliance, the Faith Alliance of Metro Atlanta, and the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta, was one of 50 rallies held in 20 countries by the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding to bring the Abrahamic faiths together.
“Love is stronger than hate. Peace is strong than violence,” said the afternoon’s host, Wm. Loyd Allen, a professor at Mercer’s McAfee School of Theology.
The event came a day before Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump called for a moratorium on the immigration of Muslims and hinted at support for serious, unconstitutional restrictions on Muslims already here, all in the name of waging a war against Islamic jihadists. But Trump was clearly on organizers’ minds.
“We reject the voices of fearmongering and polarization, including of those of presidential candidates who claim that we are doomed to tear each other apart in a decades-long war between civilizations,” Jewish community member Audrey Galex read to the crowd in a statement from the FFEU’s Walter Ruby. “Instead, we proclaim our intent to bring people of diverse faith communities together to celebrate our common humanity and build ties of friendship and trust.”
The Rev. Corey Brown, a Protestant minister and founder of the Bridge Interfaith Alliance, took the opportunity to apologize for the “asinine comments” made against Muslims by an unspecified evangelical Christian leader, possibly Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., who responded Friday, Dec. 4, to the San Bernardino shootings two days earlier by proclaiming that more concealed-carry gun permits “could end those Muslims before they walked in.”
But the rally focused more on what believers in each Abrahamic faith tradition can do to bring peace than on what others have been doing wrong.
Brown said it’s a mistake to say people are numb to violence in America because numbness actually brings pain. Instead, too many people are experiencing indifference, but he said that will change if people let love guide them.
The Islamic Speakers Bureau’s Soumaya Khalifa told of recently experiencing the feeling of being stared at in public, and she feared that the eyes on her came from someone who hated her because of her Muslim attire. But when she turned around, the huge man who had been staring embraced her in a loving hug.
“This act of compassion is what we need,” she said.
Rabbi David Spinrad of The Temple emphasized that point when he told about a congregant who had one question about the planned peace rally when he talked to her at Friday services: Will there be security?
A member of the audience provided the answer: “Where there is love, no security is required.”
The rabbi emphasized that Jews and Christians, like Muslims, have seen violent extremism within their traditions, but the crowd gathered at Mercer was united in abhorring such hatred.
Rabbi Spinrad called for all of the people to follow the example of Moses and remove their shoes because “the ground on which you are standing right now is holy ground.”
Almost inevitably, the rally ended with the singing of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” led by Dania Ibrahim and Hannah Zale, each of whom sang alone earlier. And the attendees spent time after the rally doing as Khalifa had urged, getting to know one another and becoming friends instead of enemies.
Photos by Michael Jacobs