An interfaith group some 500 strong, wearing white clothing, walked through the streets of Philadelphia last Sunday to foster a common goal: peace.
The third annual “Philadelphia Interfaith Walk for Peace and Reconciliation” on June 4 took these peace-seekers from the Al Aqsa Islamic Society in the Kensington section of the city to St. Peter’s Church on the edge of Northern Liberties, then to Christ Church in Old City, and finally, to Society Hill Synagogue a bit farther south.
“To reach out to people who are different helps to build bridges of peace,” stated Rabbi Yael Levy, who was joined by 25 or so people from Congregation Mishkan Shalom in Manayunk. “Our task is to see the face of God in all people.”
At each house of worship, religious and community leaders recited prayers, sang songs, and spoke about the importance of peace and understanding among people of varying faiths.
“We join together as brothers and sisters in the glory of God, in the hopes that peace is possible,” said Adab Ibrahim, a member of Al Aqsa.
At the mosque, men and women removed their shoes, and separated into two different rooms. Those who wanted to participate in worship moved to the front of the carpeted musalla, or “prayer hall,” and followed along with a Muslim service.
“The whole experience was interesting,” proclaimed Debbie Stewart, a Jewish “Peace Walk” participant. “I wanted to learn about their prayers and rituals.”
Later in the day, Episcopal priest Tim Safford told those sitting in the tightly packed Christ Church about the historic congregation’s battle with reconciliation – when English loyalists and American patriots clashed after the Revolutionary War.
“No one could believe after the revolution that a church that was once English could find a new future,” he said.
While Jews, Christians and Muslims were the dominant figures walking for peace, these were not the only religions represented. They were joined by Quakers, Unitarians, Buddists and members of the Philadelphia Self-Realization Fellowship.
Some walkers carried signs, though they were limited to variations on the word “peace.” The banning of politically motivated signs – like opposition to the war in Iraq or genocide in Darfur- was meant to keep the focus on peace, not politics.
“It’s important to emphasize our spiritual roots and common ground, rather than start with a political agenda,” said Vic Compher, an event organizer.
With extremist Muslims using the Koran as an excuse for terrorist acts around the world these days, Muslim Mehmet M. Dundar, president of the Philadelphia Dialogue Forum, wished to use the walk to demonstrate that Islam is a peaceful, understanding religion.
“There is nothing in our religion preventing us from getting into contact with other faiths,” said Dundar, who wore a T-shirt that said, “Our differences are our richness.”