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History, Mission and Vision
How We Began
The Philadelphia Interfaith Walk for Peace and Reconciliation began when a group of Jews, Muslims and Christians came together in November 2003 to plan the first Philadelphia Interfaith Peace Walk for Jewish-Muslim Reconciliation that took place in May 2004 through the streets of Philadelphia. The Walk included stops for prayers, teachings, singing and fellowship at a mosque, synagogue, church and Independence Mall. Subsequent Peace Walks have taken place each spring from 2005 to the present—in various Philadelphia neighborhoods, including Center City, Northwest Philadelphia, West Philadelphia and Overbrook Hills. The statement of purpose written for the first Walk explains the group’s intention:
We invite people of all faiths to join us on a spiritual journey. As we walk from Al-Aqsa Mosque to St. Augustine’s Church to Congregation Rodeph Shalom, we will lament war and loss of life. We will pray for the safety and freedom of all people. We will embrace hope, not fear. The true pathway of peace is God’s desire for love and justice, not military might. Join with us to show that peace between people of all faiths is possible Let us call out Salaam.
Let us call out Shalom. Let us call out Peace in the language of Love.
Mission and Vision
In 2012, the Peace Walk group wrote the following Mission and Vision Statements:
Mission: To facilitate peace, justice and reconciliation by engaging faith groups and other communities in dialogue, reflection, action and an annual Interfaith Peace Walk.
Vision: To nurture a transformative process of reflection, relationship-building and action among faith and secular groups working toward peace and justice through periodic dialogues about challenging issues; community service, outreach to religious and ethnic groups experiencing intolerance or persecution; and an annual Interfaith Peace Walk.
The walks endeavor to help people provide witness to reaffirming the common roots of our different religious traditions; to achieve peace with justice; to use the positive energy in this country among religious groups to transform our communities, based on the covenants we have with our Creator; to discuss our preconceptions and misconceptions and truths; and to be part of the solution, not the problem. Walking from/to the other group's house of prayer and affirming spiritual values are the primary intentions. As such, the walks focus on prayer and are intentionally non-political, and no signs or slogans are permitted; however, subsequently—by walking, praying and giving witness to suffering together, participants have decided to fast together (during Ramadan), study [texts] together and discuss political issues/work together. The Walks have been spiritually enlightening and peace affirming events for participants of the three Abrahamic faiths, as well as for people of other religions (including Sikhs, Buddhists, Hindus, Bahá’i members) and secular participants. In early meetings, the planners spoke about their reasons for participating from their religious traditions, including:
- Seek peace and pursue it
- God bestowed different tribes into the world. We need to go beyond ignorance of the other.
- Love your neighbor as yourself.
- There is unity in the world in the oneness of God.
- God wants us to bring about Shalom to heal the brokenness of the world; and God knows that humans are needed for this task.
- On a personal journey, I can learn new things from God through interaction with people of other faiths.
- Since 9/11, there is support for transformation percolating around the world. We need to continue the search for unity.
- As Rabbi Hillel said: If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?
- Worship, submit to God's will, love the Creator and care for one another.
- In a troubled world, we need to seek peace. We have a duty to reach out and extend a hand.
- We need to change our perception, change stereotypes.
- We need to be passionate about peace, especially through interfaith dialogue.
- We need to be part of healing together; and we should be able to pray together.
- This is an important opportunity to seek peace and repair the world together.
Since our inception in 2003, we have continued to hold monthly meetings—with ongoing dialogue and prayers from our various traditions—to plan the Walks and organize other interfaith activities together, including:
- God’s October Surprise: Interfaith Ramadan/Sukkot Celebration (with workshops on human rights & the image of God; links between Phila./Iraq and peace within Islam and with the world; religious/spiritual approaches to healing the earth; responding to Hurricane Katrina; empowering the poor; and stopping gun violence) followed by a program on Independence Mall with music, teachings and prayer from Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Sikh leaders and a Ramadan Iftar break-fast.
- A joint clean-up day in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, near Al-Aqsa Islamic Center.
- A Compassionate Listening/Opening of the Heart workshop.
- A three-session, small group dialogue, focusing on sharing personal spiritual journeys.
- A “getting-to-know-each-other” fellowship picnic in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia.
- An Iftar break-fast and discussion during one of the Ramadan holy days.
- Two group workdays at the Philadelphia Food Bank / Philabundance—and another planned for April 2008.
- Sacred Seasons, Sacred Earth program to celebrate the confluence of major religious observances with keynote talks on earth stewardship by Muslim, Christian and Jewish representatives; call to action on global warming; Sukkah ritual; music, poetry and dancing; and teachings by faith leaders on Hindu, Buddhist and Catholic subjects; and Muslim teachings and Ramadan Iftar break-fast.
- A group workday at the New Jerusalem Now rehabilitation center and its Peace Garden.
- A two-session small group dialogue, focusing on our feelings about the situation in the Middle East.
- A one-day visioning retreat to review the group mission and direction.
- A one-day program and subsequent dialogue sessions with Mothers In Charge (MIC) to establish a collaborative partnership toward violence prevention and anti-violence/support education in Philadelphia.
- Hosting of 2008 Fulbright Fellows in Philadelphia as part of a program at the Dialogue Institute at Temple University.
- Encountering Other Faiths – An interactive, six-part interfaith dialogue program for Peace Walk planners facilitated by Maria Hornung of the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia.
- Respecting the Earth and Nurturing our Quality of Life—Acknowledging our Similarities and Differences – Part I of the Stewardship of the Earth and Care for Each Other interfaith dialogue.
- Spirituality and Sensual Love—Acknowledging Our Similarities and Differences – Part II of the Stewardship of the Earth and Care for Each Other interfaith dialogue.
- The Philadelphia group highlighted by the Pluralism Project at Harvard as “a striking example of the power of grassroots leadership within the interfaith movement.” See profile here.
- Joining the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia’s Zones of Peace community
We have also organized meetings between the U.S. State Department and members of the Sikh community about treatment of Sikhs and turban inspections in airports; held dialogues regarding the Danish cartoon depiction of the prophet Mohammad; taken a stand against a billboard depicting a Muslim man in “terrorist” garb; written a statement calling for humanitarian aid and dialogue during the Israel-Gaza conflict; organized against a proposed state law singling out the Qu’ran and Islamic law in legal cases; joined a Philadelphia interfaith coalition to protest the hateful Islamophobic advertisements going on SEPTA buses; and organized an Interfaith Prayer Vigil attended by over 300 people in Rittenhouse Square after the pig’s head incident at Al Aqsa Islamic Society.