Diverse faiths unite in thanks
Across the bay area, Jews, Christians, Bahais, Quakers and Muslims gather for holiday interfaith services.
By SHERRI DAY
Published November 23, 2005
TAMPA - Thanksgiving and its tasty trimmings came early this year at the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area Mosque.
The mosque partnered with the Council on American-Islamic Relations Tuesday afternoon to host its third annual community Thanksgiving meal. After the dinner, mosque leaders and the Brandon Area Interfaith Coalition planned a Thanksgiving Interfaith Service, one of several community worship experiences held Tuesday throughout the bay area.
Although the coalition has been holding interfaith holiday services for the last decade, Tuesday marked the first time the event came to the mosque on Sligh Avenue and Orient Road.
"The hope is to show thanks to God by sharing his bounty, and thank people for being supportive of us in times of hardship, and just share something with each other," said Mohammad Sultan, the mosque's imam. "Food brings people together."
Later, at the service, members of diverse faiths would share their perspectives on thanking their creators - a rabbi reciting a Jewish daily prayer of thanks, a Christian minister taking up an offering for the mosque's clinic and for disaster relief in Pakistan.
But first, there was a feast that would have made Julia Child proud.
Muslim women served more than 700 heaping plates of baked chicken, tossed salad, macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole, stuffing and turkey. Seated side by side at the dinner tables were Jews, Christians, Bahais, Quakers and Muslims.
Bob and Margaret Mitchell, members of the First United Church of Tampa, came to the event to learn more about Islam and Muslim culture.
"We're all going to live in this community and we need to be supportive of each other," said Margaret Mitchell, 73, who is also president of the Temple Terrace Women's Club. "It's worth getting out and getting to know and understand that there may be some differences, but they're also some similarities."
Nearby, three University of South Florida students talked about the subtle slights they often receive when they wear the hijab, the head scarf worn by many observant Muslim women. They saw the community meal as an opportunity to dispel stereotypes, share their faith and learn about others.
"Jews, Christians and Muslims gathering in one place together is a huge step," said Radia Adyel, 22, a native of Morocco and third-year marketing major. "Even if the government does not get along, it does not mean the people are not getting along. Just like the Chinese people say, the 1,000-mile journey starts with one step."
Across town at Congregation Schaarai Zedek, a Jewish synagogue in South Tampa, hundreds of the faithful filed into an interfaith Thanksgiving service with Palma Ceia United Methodist Church.
A Jewish children's choir sang songs about peace in Hebrew, English and Arabic. Palma Ceia's Extreme Youth Band performed contemporary Christian songs. Clergy from both congregations said prayers and expressed goodwill at continuance of a five-decade fellowship.
"Our two congregations have done this in the spirit of sharing for the past 51 years... not just as Christians and Jews but more importantly as Americans," Rabbi Richard Birnholz said.
The rabbi urged the congregation to show gratitude. In his Thanksgiving sermon, the Rev. Kevin James reminded worshipers that the best is yet to come.
Interfaith services are necessary, the clergy members said, because they help tear down walls and show people from different religious backgrounds how much they have in common.
"Our mission is to increase the understanding and compassion among the various faith groups and celebrate the diversity of our community," said the Rev. Robert White, a coalition member and chaplain at Tampa General Hospital. "Through this we hope to have a more peaceful community and a greater understanding of people."
Sherri Day can be reached at email@example.com or 813 226-3405.
[Last modified November 23, 2005, 00:44:19]
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