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Our First Walk

Interfaith Peace Walk for Jewish-Muslim Reconciliation Philadelphia, PA  May 2, 2004  By Adab Ibrahim, Palestinian-American

Muslims, Jews, Christians, and Buddhists were part of the 500+ who walked 3 miles in the heart of Philadelphia to promote peace and reconciliation between people of all faiths. The Interfaith Peace Walk for Jewish Muslim Reconciliation begins at Al-Aqsa Islamic Society; a mainstream, Arab-American community, in North Central Philadelphia. 

It was nearing 1 p.m., on that Sunday afternoon. Large crowds began forming in front of this urban masjid. In the midst of people greeting each other and friendly chatter, the call to prayer resonated through the front doors, and out to the PA system speakers. It was the noon time prayer, and our walkers were ready to observe our 5x’s daily ritual, salat(prayer). 

Women and men began filing into the segregated prayer halls. The shoes, as vast and diverse as their wearers, were removed upon entering. As one of the organizers of this event, it was my job to help orchestrate the Islamic segment of the day. Arranging the non-Muslim women into a series of straight, neat lines was certainly a remarkable task! The second call to prayer silenced the room and prompted me to join my Muslim sisters swiftly in the first rows ahead. During the time I was performing my salat, I prayed that Allah would guide our journey, and bless this endeavor; as well as hold off the variable clouds and scattered thunderstorms broadcasted for the day. 

Our program continued outside, where I welcomed the walkers, and introduced our Imam and guest speakers. The distinguished guest speakers were the founders of the Jewish-Muslim Peace Walk, from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Rabbi Lynne Gottlieb is a multitalented artist, and human rights activist committed to interfaith peace building. She has been outspoken regarding the rights of Palestinians and their struggle for national independence. She is the originator of the Jewish-Muslim Peace Walk. Br. Abdul Rauf Marqetti is a Muslim scientist, and peace activist, whom she contacted at her local mosque. She invited him to be part of the peace walk just two years ago. The two have since been promoting a nationwide movement of building Jewish-Muslim relations by interfaith workshops and services. 

Their speeches rang out words of endearment, and hope. They spoke about justice and freedom for all people. They pleaded for an end to war, and to stop bloodshed and violence. They told us to live in peace and harmony, the way God intended for us all. These proclamations were the ‘common ground’ that indeed, helped develop this interfaith effort. It was what this assembly of Muslims, Jews, and Christians undertook by playing a proactive role in our commitment to peace. 

What called out to me, among the promising words of inspiration, was the proposal of Rabbi Lynn. She said that we all needed to get friendly with each other, and that we had three miles to do so! This was the perfect opportunity for diminishing stereotypes, as well as exploring curiosities. Or, it was simply a good way to meet new and interesting people, while walking for a truly good cause. We took to the streets wearing white and carrying signs that read “Peace, Salaam, Shalom”. There were placards written in different languages of “Peace”, (for those who needed to recognize their own language). 

This walk did not allow for political signs or banners, but did give way to large, vivid flags that were not embellished with any words or symbols. They gave a splash of color to spruce up our moderate crowd. This spiritual journey entailed walking, singing, and visiting various places of worship. We shared the Islamic experience, now it was time for a Christian one, or rather Catholic. Our next stop was an historic Catholic church built in 1796. The Pilipino parishioners anxiously awaited our arrival, and rushed out to greet us. It had been an hour into the walk, which led way to smoldering sunshine, and cool, gentle currents of air. It seemed like God answered the prayers of many of us, who hoped and prayed for fair weather. 

Our entrance into the church seemed effortless, as we just pressed forward to fill the benches to the 500 person capacity. We sat, and were helplessly awestruck by the pristine beauty of this house of worship. The remarkable artistry and dynamic architecture could be appreciated by anyone with an eye for splendor. 

The service started with the priest, who addressed us and welcomed us into his sanctuary. The guest speakers took their subsequent turns, but the person who made the most impact, it seemed, was our Imam Mohamad. As he stood at the dais, and began reciting the Holy Quran, the eloquence and beauty of his recitation was enormously captivating. His recitation was already highly revered in the Muslim community, but as his voice reverberated through these Catholic walls, it seemed like he had crossed over to a new genre. 

Following that notable service, we advanced to the courtyard, under the sun shelter, which supplied us with cold-bottled water and light snacks. By this time, many abided by the Rabbi’s advice, and had begun intermingling and establishing new contacts. Photographs were being snapped, with Muslims, Jews, and Christians sharing poses together. Even a small documentary was being produced. The Muslim filmmaker was capturing the entire footage as well as acquiring interviews with compliant peace walkers. We were feeling the spirit of the walk, and it was clearly apparent amidst the amiable smiles, and pleasant atmosphere. 

We were psyched, and ready to reach the Liberty Bell Pavilion, the site of our nation’s Liberty Bell. This symbolic stop was essential because of what this national treasure represents. It is a visible declaration of liberty, justice and freedom for all. Different speakers from the Muslim and Jewish delegations spoke, and roused the crowd. Our Imam recited more poignant Quran. Finally, a local singer engaged us in song. It was a classic favorite, “Let it Shine”, in which she expanded more lyrics which reflected the heart of this event. 

It was now time to stride into the heart of Center City, and past City Hall. As we walked, we drew thoughtful stares, and supportive honks from vehicles who stopped until we crossed. Some wondered what drew this diverse crowd to walk through the streets of Philadelphia on a Sunday afternoon? 

We were nearing our final destination, the synagogue. It was another historic site, with high windows, and formidable walls, whose massive doors were wide open today. We proceeded through the doors and into an elongated foyer, before entering the sanctuary. It reminded me of the church, with its narrow pathway through the center, and benches that lined opposite sides. These benches were divided into individual seats. As I sat down, I started noticing the differences between the church and synagogue. These walls were not painted with any faces or images. There were no statues or figures, more signs of similarities between our two faiths. Very elaborate, floral designs encircled the Star of David at some points. There were shapes of hands that were above the pulpit, or bimah, which I was told meant priestly blessings. The bimah was very impressive and regal, with marble columns and floors, and pointed arches. 

I glanced toward the stage where the Imam, two Rabbis and Abdul Rauf sat; above their heads gleamed a large, shiny brass menorah. It was a ‘picture of the week’ type moment. They addressed us, one by one, about praying for peace and following God’s guidance. A Jewish cantor, who helped organize the event, sang lovely songs of peace on his guitar in Hebrew. Closing that part of the ceremony was the Christian organizer who helped create this Philadelphian effort. He is a man who went on a Peace delegation to the Middle East with Rabbi Lynn and Abdul Rauf, and had seen first-hand the suffering and destitution of the Palestinian people under Occupation. He is a man who enabled many to discover that all Jews do not believe in the aggression and unjust treatment of the Palestinian people. He believed that the message of Peace could be spread through this city of ‘Brotherly Love’, peace throughout the Middle East and all over the world. 

We retired downstairs, into a ballroom with a stage and about 20 tables. This was the part of the ceremony that we inevitably earned after a long day’s walk. There was a generous spread of hummus, baba ghanough, bread, fresh fruit, crackers, cheese, and refreshments. We filled our plates and socialized with now many familiar and recognizable faces. As we dined, we were given a beautiful performance of the odes of the Sufi poet, Rumi. An Arab man recited the poetry in a melodical voice, and the talented Jewish cantor belted it back in Hebrew. At the end of this day, we succeeded in reaching our final destination, trouble-free . Many experienced new things by entering new places. Hopes were exchanged and ideas for coalition-building were ignited. Acquaintances and contacts were made. Friendships blossomed. The atmosphere of like-minded people gave way to trust and understanding needed among Jews and Muslims to move forward. Putting aside our differences and adopting our commonly shared values helped us accomplished this. 

This walk will be planned as an annual event, but many do not think that is enough. Before many of us called it a day after many months of vigorous planning, our enthusiastic walkers were already asking for more. We hope to heed this call, and respond to the 900 contacts we have on our sign -in sheet by having an upcoming event very soon!

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