Seattle’s Interfaith Community Sanctuary includes Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus

Jamal Rahman is cofounder and Muslim Sufi imam at Interfaith Community Sanctuary in Seattle. He is a popu­lar speaker and author on Islam, Sufi spirituality, and interfaith relations. Interfaith Community Sanctuary won second prize in the 2020 UN World Interfaith Harmony Week Prize from A Common Word.

Tell us about how Interfaith Community Sanctuary became a reality. Where did the idea come from?

In 1992, I was very keen to establish community in Seattle. I left my previous career and began teaching self-development classes. I was trained in Sufism, the mystical side of Islam, so that’s what I taught. I was surprised by how many people came to take the classes.

In seven years we had a few hundred people. From there we started to ask: What does it mean to have an interfaith worship service? We were people of different religions, mostly Christians but also Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus. All of us were looking for a connection to something higher and deeper.

What kind of worship could we do that unites everyone? There are a few things that transcend the boundaries of religion. One is silence. There’s no such thing as a Jewish silence or Islamic silence; it’s just silence. So, we decided, let’s just practice silence in each of our Sunday worship services.

Second, music. Everybody loves music. We had chanters from different traditions, so we added chanting. I would always quote Rumi, “Music is the sound of the spheres. We have been part of this harmony before.” And once we chant and sing and play music, it keeps our remembering fresh and it doesn’t matter what your religion is.

Food is how we came to know the other on a human level. We built that in as well. So we focused on silence, chanting, and food.

Over time, we came to say that we focus on essence, not form. We asked: What is the experience, the taste, we want? We would also say that we wanted to move from a knowledge of the tongue to a knowledge of the heart. That can come from personal relationship, connection, spiritual companions in your life, music, silence, and sharing different spiritual practices.

Every tradition says a person is to become a better human being, a more developed human being. And everyone wants to be of service to God’s creation in a genuine way. Rabindranath Tagore has this wonderful poem: “I slept and dreamed: / Life was joy. / I awoke and found life was service. / I served and lo, service was joy.”


Remembering lives lost: Interfaith virtual memorial service honors COVID-19 victims

The numbers appear mind-numbing. More than 100,000 deaths in the United States alone.

Nearly 350,000 worldwide.

A local group aims to find a way to bring those statistics to a more personal level and take a moment to ache for all who have died from COVID-19 in the pandemic.

The four-member Columbus Interfaith, plus four other local houses of worship, will join in hearts to remember and honor the world’s COVID-19 victims in a virtual service via Zoom to be posted online Sunday.



(Note: While this pertains only to religious sites in Wisconsin, it may provide a template for how others may choose to re-open)

After the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the “Safer at Home” policy on May 14, and ordered that the state must “reopen” amid the COVID-19 pandemic without a comprehensive safety plan, every industry and community has struggled under the chaos since to discern how that ruling would be applied – especially within the faith community.

The Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee released a roadmap of policies from its diverse collection of members on May 19, addressing how different faith organizations would hold in-person worship services and protect the community from the coronavirus.

“As faith communities either prepare to cautiously open up faith sanctuaries for in-person gatherings or remain closed, we wanted to present examples of what some interfaith partners are doing to strategically and safely resume in-person gathering,” said Pardeep S. Kaleka, Executive Director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee. “The plans by our interfaith partners continue to invite input from the CDC, WHO, Medical Providers, Governmental Agencies, Interfaith religious organizations, community coalitions, and the congregations themselves – the greatest importance for our leadership remains to preserve life and human dignity.”

Milwaukee Jewish Federation

The MJF, working in collaboration with its local, state, and national partners will be convening a working group that will coordinate the safe “reopening of facilities, including synagogues, community centers, schools, senior centers, camps, and workplaces.” The resumptions of operations plan. Miryam Rosenzweig, President and CEO of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation stated that “determining how to resume or more fully open our operations can be overwhelming. The Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s internal task force, in planning our own reopening and strategizing how to assist the broader community, has had one guiding principle: the sanctity of life, Pikuach Nefesh. The safety of every human being is paramount and drives every decision.”

American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin

Regional Executive Minister, Rev. Dr. Marie Onwubuariri explained that each church is autonomous in their decision to reopen and conduct services. Some of the considerations of church activities regarding close proximity will need to be altered such as, ordinations, the laying on of hands, communion, post-service meals, baptisms, and choirs. Within the communion ritual there is a flexibility to the items shared for this purpose. Crackers, juice, water, or items of everyday sustenance can be used. There will also be and adjustment to the “sign of peace” within the services once churches open up again. Rev. Dr. Marie Onwubuariri recommended that churches practice extreme caution, follow CDC guidelines and pay attention to local orders.

Catholic Church

The Archdiocese highest priority is to keep the faithful community safe during these times and while information is changing rapidly, the leadership provided directives to begin by May 31, 2020. Some key points are that communion will not be distributed by the cup, it will only be received in the hand. Also, communion will only be distributed by the priests, or vested permanent or transitional deacons. Holy water fonts should be emptied, and there will be no physical contact during the sign of peace. Social distancing of those not living in the same house will also be followed. Catholic Comeback Plan.

United Church of Christ

The UCC expressed its gratitude to its congregation for honoring the “Safer at home” order as it helped to “reduce illness, suffering, and loss of life” over the past two months. Now that the order has been lifted by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, it has put a lot of pressure on individual pastors and leadership to open. However, despite the political challenges, UCC leadership will trust guidelines to maintain communal health. UCC will be working with Rev. Kerri Parker, Wisconsin Council of Churches, as they continue to monitor and assess health guidelines set out by public health officials to create a plan consistent with the Badger Bounce Back Plan. Rev. Jane Anderson states that “our main priority is the health of our communities, so we will trust science and data.” The plan developed by the Wisconsin Council of Churches was informed by the Badger Bounce Back plan to open up churches in a phased approach. This plan allows for a gradual, measured, and cautious approach which takes into account public health guidelines and data driven decision making. Wisconsin Council of Churches (WCC) plan.

Hindu Temple of Wisconsin

Prayer services at the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin are primarily autonomous. Devotees can visit to pray during regular hours of operation or at times when longer events are scheduled. Shoes are removed before entering the sanctum sanctorum. Priests are available continuously through the day for prayer services. Devotees bring flowers for the priests to lay on statues for them. The priest pours fragrant blessed water into their hands, used as a vessel to drink from, and nuts are shared after being blessed. For the reopening of the temple, Sarvesh Geddam explained the temple hours would be restricted. The blessed water and nuts would be prepackaged, and Devotees would be asked to wear masks and maintain social distancing.

Islamic Society of Milwaukee and Brookfield

The Islamic Society will implement a phased approach to returning to in-person attendance at the Masjid in mid-June, 2020 if conditions permit. This plan is in accordance to the guidelines recommended by the CDC. Imam Noman Hussain stated that “it is of the utmost importance that the community’s safety be the highest priority. This includes the Muslim community and the broader community.” The ISM will be implementing the use of facemasks, social distancing, disinfecting, and sanitizing to mitigate the threat of spread. During the 1st Phase, there will be no Friday prayer, however there will be daily prayers in respect to allotted capacity, with adults over 65 strongly discouraged because of risk to elderly. Capacity requirements will be in place for the entire premises and social distancing will be the priority.


‘Day of Prayer’ sees humanity united in the fight against Covid-19

The Day of Prayer for Humanity unfolds as more than 4.3 million people across the globe have now been infected with Covid-19 since an outbreak was first reported in China’s Hubei province late last year.


More than 303,000 people have officially died from the infection, and experts have issued dramatic forecasts regarding the aftermath of the pandemic that has devastated economies and left millions without a job.

A vast chorus of diverse voices across the world has expressed its support and confirmed its participation in this unique ‘Day of Prayer for Humanity’.

They are Christians and Muslims, Hindus and Jews, Jains, Buddhists, atheists and agnostics.

They are uniting – in the words of Pope Francis – “as brothers and sisters, to ask the Lord to save humanity from the pandemic, to enlighten scientists and to heal the sick”.

The call for this day of prayer came from the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity which was established last August a few months after Pope Francis’s Apostolic Visit to the United Arab Emirates.  He expressed his support for it during his Regina Coeli Address on 3 May, pointing out the universality of prayer.

“Remember”, he said, “on 14 May, all believers together, believers of different traditions, pray, fast, and perform works of charity” imploring the Lord to save humanity from the pandemic.

The Committee meanwhile has launched the hashtag #PrayForHumanity to help people feel united and religious leaders across the faith spectrum have organised events and reached out on social media.

Individuals and communities are doing their thing in many ways and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue has been actively promoting the event.

Among those known to be adhereing to the ‘Day of Prayer for Humanity’ are the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Center for Interreligious Dialogue in Iran, the Islam Adyan Foundation, the World Jewish Congress, the Institute of Jainology, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the World Council of Churches, as well as Buddhist representatives, and Hindu spiritual leaders.


Australia bushfire: Muslims, Christians pray together for rain

khaleejtimes - photos

The Australia bush fire from space.



Thanksgiving is one of the few major American holidays that cannot be traced back to a particular religious tradition. However, the values Thanksgiving celebrates—the importance of family and friends, the comfort of home and a spirit of gratitude—are shared across most of the world’s major faiths.

Here are prayers from several of the world’s largest religious traditions for the holiday.

Saying grace
A meal-time prayer.GETTY


The following prayer, whose author is unknown, comes from the Buddhist tradition, according to the Jesuit Resource’s multi-faith Prayer Index. While not explicitly connected to the secular holiday, the sentiments expressed make it an appropriate reflection for Thanksgiving.

Meal Time Prayer

This food is the gift of the whole universe,
Each morsel is a sacrifice of life,
May I be worthy to receive it.
May the energy in this food,
Give me the strength,
To transform my unwholesome qualities
into wholesome ones.
I am grateful for this food,
May I realize the Path of Awakening,
For the sake of all beings.

The joys and pains of all beings
are present in the gift of this food.
Let us receive it in love
and gratitude…

And in mindfulness of our sisters and brothers
among living beings of every kind
who are hungry or homeless,
sick or injured,
or suffering in any way.


Boston cathedral’s call to be a ‘house of prayer’ extends to Muslims’ Friday prayers

ens_102519_FridayPrayer_main-768x576Episcopal News Service – Boston] Ayman Bassyouni arrives early at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul around noon each Friday to lay 15 rows of silk prayer rugs end to end on the sanctuary’s floor.

An Egyptian, Bassyouni regularly attends jumah, or Friday prayers, at the Episcopal cathedral. He is one of a few hundred men and a handful of women – mostly immigrants from North Africa, South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East and the Balkans – who pray there together.

In Islam, Friday is considered the sacred day of worship; ordinarily, Muslims pray five times a day, but on Friday, males are obliged to pray in congregation at midday.

The cathedral’s longstanding welcome of the Muslim community is one way it lives into its mission to be “a house of prayer for all people.” In the United States, where religious literacy is in decline but religion plays an increasing role in the cultural narrative, interfaith relationships build tolerance.

Beginning on Sunday, in a partnership with Boston’s Jewish and Muslim communities, St. Paul’s will host “ABRAHAM: Out of One, Many.” Presented by CARAVAN, the Oct. 27-Dec. 6 exhibit explores the concept of living harmoniously through artists’ paintings interpreting Abraham’s life and faith journey.

“Many people struggle to really understand their own tradition, let alone other people’s tradition; and my experience has been that when you’re in conversation with people of a different tradition, it causes you to learn more about your own tradition too,” said the Very Rev. Amy McCreath, dean of the cathedral, about the exhibit in a parish newsletter. “It feels to me really, really important right now that we understand our tradition and how it’s connected both to Judaism and Islam, and that we counter that sectarianism and that violence, both intellectually by knowing the history, [as well as through] building relationships with real people in real time


A church, a synagogue and a mosque to share interfaith complex in Abu Dhabi

HigherCommittee1The United Arab Emirates unveiled plans this weekend for an interfaith complex in Abu Dhabi that will unite a church, a synagogue and a mosque.

The announcement of the three houses of worship, collectively known as the “Abrahamic Family House,” follows Pope Francis’ February visit to the UAE, the first papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula. During the visit, Pope Francis and the grand imam of al-Azhar, Dr. Ahmed el-Tayeb, signed a declaration to form an interfaith council called The Higher Committee of Human Fraternity.

The Abrahamic Family House, set to be completed on 2022, is the first initiative by the new committee, according to media reports.

The Abrahamic Family House to be built in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

The Abrahamic Family House to be built in Abu Dhabi, UAE. (PRNewsfoto/The Higher Committee for Human Fraternity)

“The formation of the Committee has come at an important time and has required all peace lovers to unite and join the efforts to spread coexistence, brotherhood, and tolerance throughout the world,” Judge Mohamed Mahmoud Abdel Salam, committee member and former advisor to el-Tayeb, said in a statement.


Baccalaureate service: An interfaith celebration of diversity

bacc640Northwestern’s 161st annual Baccalaureate Service kicked off Thursday (June 20) with majestic music and a call to prayer from different faiths, giving graduating seniors, their parents and guests a time to reflect on the eve of Commencement.

The interfaith celebration of diversity included the sounds of a Tibetan singing bowl humming for several minutes as members of three other faiths took turns interjecting the sounds of their own religious traditions: Christian church chimes, a Muslim call to prayer and the Jewish shofar.

President Morton Schapiro, dressed in his purple regalia, welcomed some 600 guests in Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, praising the power of the interfaith assembly and observing, “How beautiful is it to celebrate in one space the world’s greatest religions?”

The annual service welcomes all members of the University community, honoring multiple faith traditions. Above the stage hung seven flags representing Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, Sikhism and the Baha’i faith — some of the many faiths represented on campus. An eighth flag had a Northwestern ‘N.’

The President noted that other “secular” Universities are sometimes known to avoid faith, but “at Northwestern, we interpret secular as meaning welcoming all religions equally, too, and watching these religious traditions thrive here.”

President Schapiro evoked a passage from the Book of Genesis, Chapter 23, “The Death of Sarah,” and he spoke of her age, recorded in the Bible to be 127 years at her passing. He talked about teaching his students how a life can be broken down into stages at which people learn different things. As they get older, they incorporate the knowledge gained from each of those stages, he said.


Interfaith Shabbat brings Jews, Muslims together

20190322awShabbat04-3-1553315017Around 7:30 Friday night at Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill, a visitor standing in the hallway could hear the braided sounds of a Muslim imam chanting Arabic prayer in one room and Jewish clergy leading Shabbat worship songs in the nearby sanctuary to guitar accompaniment.

They had gathered under one roof for the third annual interfaith Shabbat dinner and service, hosted by Temple Sinai with guests from the nearby Islamic Center of Pittsburgh in Oakland.

The event, launched here in 2017 in the wake of a U.S. travel ban targeted at several majority-Muslim countries, had long been scheduled for this Friday night.

But it took on a much more poignant significance coming one week after a gunman killed 50 worshipers at two New Zealand mosques. 

People gather for a vigil in Christchurch's Hagley Park following the March 15 terror attack in New Zealand on March 24, 2019.
The New Zealand terror attack spotlight’s Christchurch’s white-supremacist history

That in turn recalled the terror of the Oct. 27, 2018 killings of 11 worshipers from three Jewish congregations at the Tree of Life / Or L’Simcha synagogue in Squirrel Hill. In the wake of that anti-Semitic massacre, local Muslims and other faith groups rallied to the support of the Jewish community.

On Friday afternoon, in fact, just hours before the sundown start of the Jewish worship services, many Jews and others had attended the main weekly prayer service at the Islamic Center in a similar demonstration of solidarity.

“It’s really beautiful,” said Mohammad Sajjad, executive director of the Islamic Center. “It just reaffirms people in the Pittsburgh community, especially in the interfaith community, they’ve got each other’s backs.”