On September 11, 2001, a terrorist attack in New York resulted in the deaths of thousands. The innocent Americans killed in this attack were of various faiths, and the broader victims include everyone who considers America home, regardless of ethnicity or religious tradition. That awful day propelled the discussion of religion into the American public square. From new heights of fear of unfamiliar practices to a new awareness of the variety of religious communities in the United States, people all over the country who had no previous knowledge of the religious diversity in the U.S. were suddenly made aware of the presence of those who had lived alongside them for decades.
The confusion, fear, and hope which have followed September 11 have sometimes strained interfaith relationships,and have sometimes been vital to the community education and communication which can lead to communal healing. Four of the six interfaith organizations discussed above evolved out of interfaith friendships and common issues of concern, and many members of different interfaith groups have close ties with one another. This basic “relational” nature of the interfaith movement has been vital to the success of various interfaith activities after September 11. As interfaith relations have become a primary concern nationwide, the dedication to communication and relationship which is the basis of the interfaith community has continued to serve America well.
- Interfaith organizations have been called upon to advise those who have suddenly realized the importance of learning to understand and respect other faiths, particularly Islam.
- The Mall of America hastened the building of an interfaith meditation room, in part to accommodate the needs of their numerous Muslim employees. The room was dedicated on February 28, 2002. It includes foot-washing stalls, a place to store shoes and prayer rugs, a painted compass indicating the direction of Mecca, and a poster relating the ways in which 13 different religions express “The Golden Rule.” Information on the meditation room can be found at www.meaningstore.org/Moreprayerroom.htm.
- A new Mosque in Bloomington (a suburb of the Twin Cities) has been holding open houses each Sunday, and has received over 100 visitors each week.
- On September 14, a group of leaders from various faiths in the Twin Cities area held an Interfaith Press Conference and produced a press release condemning the attacks. This new group has decided to continue to hold regular meetings.
- On September 16, the state of Minnesota held an interfaith memorial service for the victims of the terrorist attacks. Over 40,000 people attended this service. (For more information, including press releases, official statements, and photographs, please visit www.mnchurches.org).
The interfaith movement has gradually been gaining speed over the last 20 to 30 years. Rather than being strained by these difficult times, many of the relationships created through these endeavors are now treasured more than ever. It is becoming clear that our nation’s religious communities can no longer afford to live separate lives, and frightened and saddened individuals are finding support in communities of mutual understanding and respect. The Interfaith News Conference’s press release affirms that
“Division breeds anxiety, fear, hatred, and violence. Unity cultivates humility, compassion, hope, and vitality. We stand together for unity, faith, and life.”
—Elizabeth Varro, Pluralism Project Student Affiliate