Unity Walk celebrates all faiths in remembrance of 9/11
A microphone reverberated with the deep and sonorous Muslim call to prayer shortly before 2 p.m. Sunday. “Allaaaaaah — uh — Akbar!” An entire congregation bowed its head in prayer — a Jewish synagogue filled with Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Hare Krishnas, Mormons, Pentecostals, Greek Orthodox, Baha’i and others.
Just think, one woman sitting in the mauve seats at the Washington Hebrew Congregation marveled, in another country, they all could be shot for such blasphemy.
But on Sunday, days before the nation commemorates the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and as a bitterly divided Congress and country debate whether to authorize missile strikes against another Middle Eastern country, hundreds of Washingtonians gathered for the ninth annual 9/11 Unity Walk, seeking to find what people of different faiths share in common rather than what divides them.
Throughout the afternoon, Christians learned to chant with Hare Krishnas, carefully holding laminated mantras on their laps. Sikhs gave turban-tying demonstrations. Others practiced yoga and tai chi or danced in peace circles. The faithful or the plain curious could help the poor by bagging potatoes at St. Sophia’s Greek Orthodox church or making trail mix at the Embassy of the Vatican, open to walkers for the first time in honor of Pope Francis and his dedication to the poor.
“You should stay open more often,” Maryum Saifee, 31, a “cultural” Muslim who works at the State Department told the priest at the door as she left the Embassy of the Vatican. “The garden is really beautiful.”
A Syrian American who would only give his name as Wasim out of fear for his family still in that country, said he would never have imagined as a boy that he would be so comfortable in a synagogue, praying for peace, for an end to war, for President Obama not to drop bombs on his country, with others of so many different faiths.
“But I came to this country when I was 18, and I had a choice,” he said. “I had to let go everything I learned, about who my enemy was, or constantly be in pain.”
South African Ambassador Ibrahim Rasool, a Muslim, speaking at the synagogue, said he recalled the moment when he found a verse in the Torah, about God breathing life into the soul of each human, that was nearly identical to a verse he loved in the Koran. He realized that each person, no matter the religion, language or color, carried the spark of the divine, and he urged those on the Unity Walk to do the same.
And so, true to the motto of the walk: “From Different Paths, We Walk as One”, a Buddhist in saffron robes and sandals walked along Massachusetts Avenue with a Cambodian and a Presbyterian minister until they all decided to visit the Embassy Pentecostal Evangelical Church to hear believers speak in tongues.
The church was one of several houses of worship in Northwest Washington along the two-mile route from the synagogue to the Islamic Center of Washington that opened the doors to anyone and offered “faith guides” who could explain their beliefs.
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