The Journal Gazette
Saturday, December 12, 2015 5:54 am

Faiths stand foursquare against bias

Rosa Salter Rodriguez | The Journal Gazette

A rabbi. A minister. An imam. And more than 100 people.

All gathered alongside the Allen County Courthouse on Friday morning vowing to help love triumph over hate.

"Those of us standing here, we don’t all look the same or pray the same or vote the same or think the same, but we do share a common purpose," the Rev. Jeff Lehn, senior pastor Fort Wayne’s First Presbyterian Church and one of the event’s organizers, told participants.

"We want all people to be welcomed in Fort Wayne, to be free to worship and work and play and live up to their potential in a way that makes God smile," Lehn continued. "But especially in these days, we want our Muslim neighbors to be welcomed in this community. We stand in solidarity with them and pray for their well-being and protection today."

Lehn said the event, which included remarks by members of four faith traditions, was organized in response to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and the massacre in San Bernadino, California. Authorities have linked both to Islamist extremists.

As a result, he said, other followers of Islam have been singled out for suspicion and persecution, and politicians have issued calls to close America’s and Indiana’s borders to Muslims, at least temporarily.

Rabbi Javier Cattapan, who heads Fort Wayne’s Reform Judaism’s Congregation Achduth Vesholom, said such reactions run counter to "our shared values," and people should "wholly reject" them.

America’s shared values "have to do with freedom of expression and freedom of religion," he said, adding, "In the Jewish community, we know all too well what happens when a group is scapegoated."

His reference was to Nazi Germany’s persecution and slaughter of Jews during the Holocaust in World War II.

Also on Friday, the Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne separately issued a statement denouncing "the increasingly intolerant and inflammatory anti-Muslim rhetoric that is currently pulsing through American society."

The statement calls "any religious bigotry," which includes calls for a national Muslim registry, selective immigration policies based on religion or bans on Muslims traveling to the United States "repugnant."

"We applaud those Muslim leaders who have spoken out to reject this hateful ideology of radical Islamist terrorism and have unequivocally rejected hateful interpretations of Islam, ..." the statement says.

It was signed by federation officials Ron Friedman, Executive Director Jaki Schreier and Ronnie Greenberg. 

Imam Nuhu Abdulai of the Universal Education Foundation, 2223 Goshen Road, was one of three representatives of the Muslim community who spoke. He said Islam’s scriptures teach "peaceful coexistence" with other religions.

In Islam, he said, God "does not give the authority to anyone to judge" others on the basis of religion. "He will judge," said the imam, a native of Ghana.  

Dr. Gohar Salam, UEF president, thanked attendees for their support in "a time of hardship" for believers in Islam. He pledged that "when you need help … your Muslim brothers and sisters … will be here for you."

The other Muslim speaker was Ahmed Abdelmageed, a board member of the Muslim Alliance of Indiana and on the faculty of Manchester University’s School of Pharmacy, Fort Wayne. 

The Rev. Bill McGill, pastor of Fort Wayne’s Imani Baptist Church, closed the gathering by leading the group in singing "We Shall Overcome," an anthem of the U.S. civil rights movement. 

"We can’t allow hate to come through our gate," McGill said in his trademark rhyming style of preaching. "None of us are free until all of us are free."

Lehn said after the event that he hoped it would be "the start of something bigger" that will lead to more understanding among area Muslims and members of other faiths.

To his knowledge, Fort Wayne has not had instances of violence against Muslims, Lehn said. But, he added: "I do think that we need to stay ahead of this issue and not be complacent that it can’t happen here. I think peace and interreligious understanding are something we have to nurture."

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