New York — Thousands of Americans crossed the lines of faith traditions to fast from dawn to dusk Monday to call for an end to the Iraq War.
Prayer and fasting events were also reported in Canada, Australia and elsewhere, said Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana, associate general secretary at the National Council of Churches USA (NCC), one of the fast’s organizers.
Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Unitarians, people of other faiths and people of no faith observed a day of fasting together. In many communities the breaking of the fast was observed at Islamic centers with an iftar dinner on the “Night of Power,” the holiest night in Ramadan.
“This war must end!” said the religious leaders in a statement.
“We must end the shattering of Iraqi and American lives by offering American generosity and support — but not control —for international and nongovernmental efforts to assist Iraqis in making peace and rebuilding their country, while swiftly and safely bringing home all American troops.”
Breaking the fast at sundown dinners rolled west across the nation in the different time zones. They began in Washington, D.C., North Carolina and Pennsylvania and continued to Kansas, Colorado, California and Washington.
What may have been a first was a fast that took place in the online virtual community of Second Life (www.secondlife.com), organized by the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and the Peacemaker Institute.
Through their avatars, participants met for hourly mediation sessions throughout the day and then broke the fast with a closing ceremony and virtual snacks.
“Since I don’t live near any of the real life celebrations, participating in Second Life gave me the opportunity to be in community with others while I was fasting,” said Ruby Sinreich, of FOR.
At an Islamic center in Sterling, Va., just outside the nation’s capital, several Christians and Jews gathered with Muslims to break the fast. Also present were officials of the U.S. State and Homeland Security departments and elected officials.
“Perhaps more than ever before, religious people in small communities and large cities throughout the U.S. are gathering right now to break the fast,” the Rev. Dr. Premawardhana told the gathering.
“It is now imperative that we work to expand and deepen those relationships.”
Rick Ufford Chase, former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, USA, spoke of the efforts of Christians to bring an end to the war in Iraq, including those of Christian Peace Witness, which brought over 3000 religious leaders to Washington on the 4th anniversary of war.
“Christians must own that our Christian president took us to war,” he said. “That was the focus of the gathering in March. Now, working hand in hand with our interfaith partners we are much stronger.”
The leaders of many faith communities invited Americans to join interfaith events for the common goal of peace, which is common to all major religions in the world.
“American culture, society, and policy are addicted to violence at home and overseas,” said the organizers. “In our time, the hope of a decent future is endangered by an unnecessary, morally abhorrent and disastrous war. Ending this war can become the first step toward a policy that embodies a deeper, broader sense of generosity and community at home and in the world.”
The National Council of Churches USA is the ecumenical voice of 35 U.S.
Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, historic African American and traditional peace churches. These member communions represent 45 million Christians in 100,000 congregations in all 50 states.
On Thursday, in another far-reaching act of interfaith dialogue, dozens of Muslim leaders from around the world released the text of a letter to Christian leaders at news conferences in London, Abu Dhabi, and Washington.
The letter urges a search for “common ground” and outlines shared theological roots and proposed areas of understanding between the two faiths.
“The Unity of God, the necessity of love for Him, and the necessity of love of the neighbour is thus the common ground between Islam and Christianity,” the leaders, representing all branches and divisions of the faith say in the 29-page letter.
Signed by 138 clerics, scholars and other Muslim leaders, it was addressed to Pope Benedict XVI and the major leaders of Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Evangelical, Anglican, Orthodox churches and other Christian sects.
Noting that Christians and Muslims together are more than half the world’s population, the letter reads “If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace . . . our common future is at stake. The very survival of the world is perhaps at stake.”
The letter is expected to serve as a topic of conversation when Catholics and Muslims meet in Dearborn Oct. 21-23 for the Midwest Muslim-Catholic Dialogue.
It was issued the day before Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that ends Ramadan.
It also coincided with the anniversary of a controversial speech given by Pope Benedict in Germany last year, in which he quoted a medieval scholar about Islam in a way that was perceived by many as offensive.
During efforts at interfaith dialogue that followed, which included a trip by Adam Cardinal Maida to the Islamic Center of America, in Dearborn, some Catholic leaders suggested that Muslims adopt a series of points of faith common to both traditions as a starting point for more dialogue. The letter was intended as a response to the request.
The letter and the news conferences are also being seen as extraordinary because they brought Muslim leaders from a wide range of theological schools across Sunni, Shia, Salafi and Sufi traditions.