Interfaith conference promotes tolerance

April 12, 2002|BY TARA REILLY

Wars fought in the name of religion are nothing more than fronts to support political agendas similar to Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, said Yahya Hendi, Imam of the Islamic Society of Frederick, Md.

"I do believe violence has no religion," Hendi said. "It's like when you say 'holy war.' How can war be holy?"

Hendi was one of four members of a panel at an interfaith conference held Thursday night to strengthen bonds and promote tolerance among Jews, Muslims, Christians and those of other faiths through education.


The conference, held at Hagerstown's Community College's Kepler Theater, drew about 300 people. It was sponsored by the Washington County Council of Churches, Islamic Society of Western Maryland and B'Nai Abraham Congregation.

Other panel members were Rabbi Janice Garfunkel of B'Nai Abraham in Hagerstown; Sheikh Yusuf Estes, who served as a Muslim chaplain for federal prisons; and Charles H. Maahs, a retired bishop of the Central States Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

Clark Lobenstine, executive director of Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, was the panel's moderator.

The panelists gave brief descriptions of their faiths and then responded to written questions from the audience.

Responding to one of those questions, Garfunkel said that as a way to help keep religion from being used as a source of violence and hatred, people of all faiths can show support for each when religions come under attack.

"We need to stand up and say that's outside the bounds of our religions," Garfunkel said.

When vandals sprayed the local synagogue with hate graffiti a few years ago, the Jewish community received support from people of all denominations. The synagogue has not been vandalized since, she said.

"The only thing we need for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing," Garfunkel said.

Hendi, who is also the spokesman for the Islamic Jurisprudence Council of North America, said that peace can come only when people realize they are all created by the same God. Hendi also served as spokesman for Islam for the U.S. State Department.

"We are brothers and sisters in the same family whether we like it or not," Hendi said.

Maahs said people must work in the spirit of Jesus Christ by being tolerant and accepting others, rather than claiming their religion is authentic and others are not.

Hendi said that people, no matter what religion, share more similarities that differences.

"Brothers and sisters, we can speak about many differences, but the number of similarities do outnumber the differences we have around us," he said.

In support of the conference, the Washington County Board of Commissioners declared April 11 a day of faith and tolerance, Commissioner Vice President Paul L. Swartz said at the beginning of the event.

"Tonight we are gaining in our faith and understanding," Swartz said. "Tonight is the beginning of the end of Sept. 11 as far as Washington County is concerned."

For more information about future interfaith conferences, call 301-790-7700 or e-mail

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