By Jacqueline Taylor Basker
“Just show up” was the final plea of the Reverend Chloe Breyer at “Building Bridges,” a Christian-Muslim Interfaith Dialogue held on March 26th at The Church of St. Luke in the Fields in Greenwich Village, as part of their “Conversations That Matter” series. Breyer told her story of being called by friends to come to the airport after Trump’s travel ban, which was signed in January. At first, there were only a few people with signs in the parking lot. They soon realized that they needed lawyers, and called friends to find them. Eventually, this turned into massive protests in airports throughout the country, which lasted for weeks. Breyer spoke of the urgent need for people of faith to engage in activities protesting the recent growth of Islamophobia, bans on refugees, and violence against minorities.
The “Building Bridges” program acts as a response to recent political decisions regarding Muslims and refugees banned from entering this country. St. Luke’s Reverend William Ogburn organized this interfaith panel consisting of Dr. Hussein Rashid, a prominent Islamic scholar; the Reverend Masud Ibn Syedullah, from the Episcopal-Muslim Relations Committee of The Episcopal Diocese of New York; and Reverend Chloe Breyer, an Episcopal priest directing the Interfaith Center of New York.
Pews were full as people listened to Dr. Rashid’s cogent history of Islam and its spirituality. He pointed out important parallels between the “people of the Book”—Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Reminding the audience that accusations of violence in Islam need to be put into perspective, he noted that Jainism and Baha’i are the only violence-free religions. Muslims around the world (only 20% are Arab) basically pray, build, eat, and celebrate community with song and dance. The U.S. has a long history with Muslims since one-third of the African slaves, who helped build this nation, were Muslim.
Reverend Masoud Ibn Syedullah, an African-American, shared his unique personal history of ecumenism. Having grown up with a Christian mother and a Muslim father, he spent Sunday mornings in Church and afternoons in the Mosque. He eloquently described the convergence of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism in the use of symbols, stories and myths, which convey the ineffable ultimate reality. Christians and Jews define God as Love and Muslims describe Allah as all-compassionate and merciful; all enjoin believers to love God and their neighbors. There are 200,000 Muslim neighbors to love in the New York City area.
With a Jewish father and Christian mother, Reverend Chloe Breyer has also been on a lifetime ecumenical mission, and described successful grassroots efforts of the Interfaith Center of New York, from Staten Island to the Bronx. Working with Catholic Charities, they were even able to undertake a youth project to clean both a church and a mosque (more difficult due to the carpets to be vacuumed). However, some parents refused to have their children enter a mosque, pointing out the need for continued work with religious leaders and laity to build bridges, not walls.