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Religious leaders urge Muslims to distance faith from terrorism

Imam Abdullah Faaruuq of the Islamic Council of New England lit a candle at an interfaith gathering.
Imam Abdullah Faaruuq of the Islamic Council of New England lit a candle at an interfaith gathering. (Suzanne Kreiter/ Globe Staff)

BROOKLINE -- Several leading local religious leaders, meeting together to pray and reflect on the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, called on their Muslim counterparts yesterday to do a better job of distancing their faith from terrorism.

``The God of the Jews and the God of the Christians and the God of the Muslims cannot and does not sanction violence," Metropolitan Methodios, the longtime Greek Orthodox hierarch of Boston, said in an interview. ``We spoke about the need for the Islamic community to be more vocal in disavowing itself from these radicals . . . The Islamic community really has to be much more forceful."

Methodios recently began traveling monthly to Turkey for meetings in Istanbul, where, he said, Jews and Christians are suffering at the hands of ``this radical element of the Muslim community."

Methodios and others spoke after what participants described as an unusually candid, two-hour conversation among many of the most important religious leaders in Massachusetts, including rabbis, imams, and bishops, as well as several dozen clergy and lay leaders. The group prayed together and lit candles in memory of the victims of the 9/11 attacks, but also aired concerns and fears about prejudice, warfare, and terrorism.

Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley, in one of his first major public interfaith appearances, said it is incumbent on religious leaders to call on their membership to ``help build up the human family."

``We have to stand with the Muslim leaders who are willing to come out with us and condemn terrorism and violence -- that voice needs to be loud and clear," O'Malley said in an interview. ``Islam did not invent terrorism -- we had the IRA, the ETA, the Red Brigades, the Sendero Luminoso [Shining Path] -- but all of us need to condemn this tactic that has been used to manipulate people in the world, and we need to recognize in what context it comes about and try to deal with that context."

Several Muslim leaders attended the gathering, and some suggested that the news media had failed to amplify the voices within the Muslim community that condemn terrorism.

``I know that my religion does not permit that." Imam Farouk Taalib of the Mosque for the Praising of Allah in Boston said of terrorism. ``The media will try to say that we're insane, but it's not true. I know what the book says, and I know what the tradition of the prophet says, and I know that mercy, loving kindness, and acts of concern for our fellow human beings are of quintessential importance."

The faith leaders have been gathering annually since 9/11, when Cardinal Bernard F. Law called them together to talk about the terrorist attacks and to speak out unanimously against possible hate crimes directed against Muslims.

Yesterday, for the first time, the group tried a form of conversation they called ``sacred sharing," in which leaders spoke about their concerns and no one responded, a tactic that was supposed to encourage listening.

The conversation, which took place at the headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Boston, was closed to the media, but according to participants, Jewish leaders spoke about their fears of anti-Semitism, Muslims about concerns about discrimination, and Christians about a variety of concerns, including the increasing polarization of American culture.

``It had more depth and breadth than I have seen in quite a long time," said Nancy K. Kaufman, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council. ``It gave people a chance to think and reflect. There was a real desire to engage and be in dialogue."

After the meeting, the group lit memorial candles and issued a statement of shared values, declaring: ``We acknowledge that participants in faith communities sometimes have fostered destructive negativity. We reject such negativity in all its manifestations." The group agreed to meet more frequently and to encourage conversations at the community level.

``We all have histories, some of which we celebrate, and other parts of our histories about which we might want to repent," said the Rev. Diane C. Kessler, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, a coalition of Protestant and Orthodox churches. ``There was a strong commitment . . . to find peaceful ways to address differences."

Michael Paulson can be reached at mpaulson@globe.com.

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