Interfaith groups promote understanding, trust
|Women Transcending Boundaries’ co-founder Danya Wellmon (left) and guest speaker Erica Tavares of Women for Women International. Photos courtesy of WTB.|
In the nervous days after 9/11, two women in Central New York, one Christian, the other Muslim, talked for hours on the phone.
They discussed fears, faith and their shared humanity. Soon they broadened the circle of conversation. Twenty women showed up for a home gathering. Then 40 came.
The result, Women Transcending Boundaries (WTB), is a remarkable saga of interfaith friendship and action. Five years later, they’re still talking, showing the religious world what’s possible.
“These are women who care,” said Betsy Wiggins, a WTB founder who attends University United Methodist Church in Syracuse. She placed the initial phone call to Danya Wellmon, a leader at a local mosque.
WTB today actively involves some 250 women. Monthly they hear presentations on world religions, share experiences and identify social needs. WTB partnered with a family-run school system in rural Pakistan, contributing $15,000 to build a school there. They have aided hurricane and tsunami victims, held international dinners, visited each others’ places of worship, contributed to literacy efforts for local refugees and raised money for Women for Women, which supports women in regions traumatized by war.
|More than 230 women attended the third International Dinner. Photos courtesy of WTB.|
“We’re a group of women committed to making changes, finding our common ground and common humanity,” said Wellmon, a Muslim and former United Methodist.
Their secret of success? They became friends in an environment of trust — in this case, a women-only enclave. The group now includes Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, atheists and others.
“After 9/11 there was ignorance and fear,” Wiggins said. “People don’t understand people who aren’t like them. But radical terrorists don’t represent Islam, just as (Oklahoma City bomber) Timothy McVeigh doesn’t represent Christianity.”
Another interfaith breakthrough between Muslims and United Methodists came in April when more than 100 leaders in the Northern Illinois Conference signed a “Declaration of Relationship” with the local Islamic community.
|Nina Daoud and Nadia Daoud are two of many who helped out in the kitchen. WTB photos|
It came out of conversations between United Methodist Bishop Hee-Soo Jung of Chicago and Abdul Malik Mujahid, chair of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago.
It reads: “As Muslims and as United Methodist Christians, we share a strong emphasis on prayer, the call for the pursuit of personal holiness and social justice, and the focus on charity and the dignity of every human being.”
It calls on the faith groups to collaborate on social justice and to gather annually to reaffirm their mutual commitment. It’s likely to inspire gatherings between congregations.
“We need to rub off on each other,” said the Rev. Ed Hiestand, ecumenical officer for the Northern Illinois Conference.
“We worship the same Almighty God in different ways. ... These discussions help you to sharpen your thoughts on your own faith and prepare you to prove your faith.”
Five years after 9/11, interfaith organizers say it takes energy, courage, spiritual spontaneity and a willingness to learn from strangers to be peacemakers in an era of global violence and suffering.
If and when the next terrorist strike happens, said Wiggins, “I know the very next day we will meet and talk and respond in some way.”
—Ray Waddle is a religion writer and columnist based in Nashville, Tenn.