Imagine a Peaceful Response to the Tenth Anniversary of 9.11
The Rev. Dorothy Saucedo, Imam Ahmad Shqeirat and the Rev. Gil Stafford were invited to Virginia Theological Seminary to participate in a conversation about imagining a peaceful response to the tenth anniversary of 9.11. Aided by a Luce grant, VTS brought together 44 people. Episcopal bishops, priests, deacons and laity (including ten seminary students) joined together with Islamic Imams and laity from 19 cities and eight countries.
For three days, eleven hours a day, we struggled intensely with theological, philosophical and practical questions. We asked risky and courageous questions about our religious differences. We sought to understand our similarities. We opened ourselves to be vulnerable and to listen to one another. We heard our stories of pain. We listened to one another’s fears. And we imagined what God was saying to us, as a global community.
We heard stories like Ahmad’s. He is the Imam at the Islamic Cultural Center in Tempe. In the fall of 2006, he and three other Imams were waiting to board a plane in Minneapolis to travel to their home in Phoenix. Before boarding the plane, they said their prayers. As they boarded the plane one of the passengers passed a note to a flight attendant saying he heard these four men saying Allah before getting aboard. The passenger also thought it was suspicious that one man was wearing dark glasses while on the plane.
Subsequently, Ahmad and his three friends were handcuffed and escorted off the plane. The man wearing the dark glasses was elderly and blind, however, he was forced to walk down the jet way, unaided. Obviously, he was frightened. The four men were detained and questioned by the local police and the FBI. After five hours they were released and told they had done nothing wrong and were not suspects for any crime. They were told they could return to the terminal and arrange a flight to go home. US Airways, whose flight they were originally on, would not take these four men as customers. Eventually, they were able to buy tickets from Northwest Airlines to make their way home. These men had their civil rights violated, which was later proven in court.
We heard other personal stories, Muslim and Christian, of prejudice, hatred and marginalization that have increased in our country. Our group came together to share in one other’s pain and as human beings, to acknowledge that we could listen and hear deep into our souls.
Our task was to work together with our local communities in planning healing events for the tenth anniversary of 9.11. In Tempe, we plan to build on our second annual event of listening to the Abrahamic stories of our roots. We will honor our sacred texts, Torah, Bible and Quran. We will hear stories from our traditions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islamic. We will listen to one another and we will fellowship with one another.
In Tempe, we are supporting a new young adult interfaith group, iMagine, and we will be joining with them as they lead us to develop a service project for September 11, as President Obama has encouraged us to do.
And in Tempe, at St. Augustine’s, with Bishop Smith’s approval, our congregation has invited Imam Ahmad to be our guest preacher at our 10:30 Sunday service on September 11th.
Our delegation of three also committed to inviting our fellow Christians and Muslims from our neighboring communities across Maricopa County to join us.
These events, we are praying together, will allow us to imagine a new way of listening and working together. Yes, we do have theological differences, but we do share many similarities. Most importantly, we are human beings, God’s creation called to serve God’s creatures and be good stewards of God’s creation. We can only do this in our global economy if we begin to see with the eyes of God’s new imagination for us in the world in which we live. Only if we see with the heart of God’s economy can we reach out with our hearts to embrace one another as sisters and brothers.
I left VTS with a renewed spirit, an encouraged heart and a resolve to my commitment to listen to the intention of God. I left VTS knowing that listening to the heart of God is risky and may require courageous action. I left VTS with a deeper appreciation of our Episcopal tradition and Church that calls us into a new imagination of living in a global village. And I returned home with a new anticipation of the tenth anniversary of 9.11, one that is hopeful and not