NASHVILLE, Tennessee Overcoming problems over the building of a mosque, Muslim, Christian and Jewish faith leaders in the south-eastern US state of Tennessee have organized an interfaith group to overcome difference and develop authentic friendships.
We have to form relationships so that we can respond effectively to a crisis, Daniel Tutt, a Washington-based interfaith activist and writer, told USA Today on Friday, February 22.
Tutt was speaking at a gathering at Christ Church Cathedral which was attended by groups of Muslims, Christians and Jews.
Embracing and chatting like old friends, the Church gathering was the latest meeting of the Family of Abraham, an interfaith group based in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
The event, attended by about 170 people who filled the church's pews, was the latest success of the group created in response to controversy over the construction of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, 40 miles to the south.
The original organizers were part of a Jewish-Muslim study group called the Circle of Friends. They wanted to show that Middle Tennessee welcomes people of all faiths.
Part of the surprise has been that so many places have been open to us, Bernard Werthan, one of the event's organizers, said.
No one has turned us down.
The mosque was the center of fierce public opposition since plans for building the Muslim worship place were unveiled in 2010.
Opponents have sought court rulings to stop the mosque building, arguing that Islam is not a religion protected by the US Constitution, and that the mosque would promote Shari`ah.
After a long court battle, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order in June to allow the Muslim community in Tennessee to use the mosque, about 30 miles from Nashville, for worshipping.
Last November, the Muslim community finally celebrated the opening of the long-sought mosque to accommodate their religious needs.
Interfaith activists urged representatives of the three Abrahamic faiths to move from tolerating one another to developing authentic friendships.
Diversity is just a starting point to tackling things that are bigger than ourselves, Tutt, the interfaith activist, said.
The Rev. Timothy Kimbrough, rector of Christ Church, said the program fit with his Episcopal congregation's ministry.
Part of the mission of a cathedral is to be at the spiritual crossroads of a community, he said.
This program certainly fits that mission.
Imam Yusuf Abdullah of Masjid Al-Islam agreed, saying he appreciated the support that Muslims have received from people of other faiths.
These initiatives would help Muslims to be more proactive in talking about their faith.
We, as Muslims, have to tell our story, Abdullah said.
US Muslims, estimated at between six to eight million, have been sensing a growing hostility in recent years.