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Interfaith Festival Joins Muslim, Jewish, Christian Communities

Washington -- Religion is not a part of the conversation among her friends at school, but treating each other with respect is, says Jessica, 14, at an interfaith dinner organized by Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders.

"I believe in God, but I am not a member of any particular church," the teenager said at the December 16 dinner outside Washington in Frederick, Maryland. She attended the event with a friend and his family, who are Jewish.

"It's all good," her friend, Sam, 14, said. "Younger people are open to new ideas and diverse communities."

More than 250 members of the Jewish, Islamic and Christian communities in Frederick shared a meal together at the second annual Hanukah, Christmas and Hajj Festival. Dinner was served potluck style -- families contributed their favorite dishes of the season and placed them side by side with those of their neighbors on long banquet tables. There was something for everyone -- from green bean casserole and homemade saffron bread to matzoh ball soup, keema kabob and vegetable pilaf.

Latifa Boutaleb came with her husband, Tewfik, an engineer in Frederick, and their three young children. She placed her pineapple upside-down cake on a table next to apple pie and creme brle custard. The couple emigrated from Algeria to the United States in 1999.

"I came [to the interfaith festival] to meet people in my community," said Latifa Boutaleb.  Her husband attended the first interfaith dinner in 2006 and said he would not miss this year's event.  The Boutalebs worship at the Islamic Society of Frederick, and Tewfik Boutaleb performed Hajj in 2006.  The Hajj, one of the Five Pillars of Islam, is the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, which all able Muslims are expected to perform at least once in their lifetime. (See related article.)

"It is beautiful to be here with all the children playing together," Tewfik Boutaleb said. His son, Mohamed, 7, was spinning a dreidel, the traditional top played during the eight-day Jewish festival of Hanukah, with Nourjannah, 9, the daughter of Imam Yahya Hendi of the Islamic Society of Frederick.

"There are some people all over the world who misunderstand religions," Nourjannah said. "Maybe if we bring them all together, they can see there is another side to their religions."

Nourjannah, who told USINFO she wants to be a "speaker of peace who travels around the world" when she grows up, said she is glad she lives in America where "everybody can practice their faith." Nourjannah said her room at home has piles of books about different religions, and she enjoys reading about and listening to other people's stories. Both Nourjannah and Mohamed were paying close attention when representatives from the Jewish, Islamic and Christian communities gave presentations explaining stories and rituals of Hanukah, Christmas and Hajj.

Sadia Fayyaz, 17, said she hopes to be a teacher some day so she can encourage young people "to talk through" religious debates. Sadia's parents live in Pakistan; she lives in Frederick with her sister and brother-in-law and their four children. "A lot of my friends at school are Jewish," Sadia told USINFO. "We are always questioning each other."

Sadia said there is much diversity at her secondary school, which has designated a special room for Muslim students to pray during the day. Her father has performed Hajj, said Sadia, who hopes to make the pilgrimage herself soon.

Hendi and fellow Frederick spiritual leaders Rabbi Dan Sikowitz of Congregation Kol Ami and the Reverend Gerald Hanberry of Glade United Church of Christ offered blessings before the meal. Hendi explained that although Eid-ul-Adha, which marks the end of Hajj, is celebrated by pilgrims making the annual journey to Mecca, it also is celebrated by Muslims elsewhere, including in the United States.

"It is important to come together to find out how much we share in our humanness," said Miriam Klements who was seated at the same table as the Boutalebs. "What we do to get to know each other at the human, family and community level is really important." Klements is a member of Frederick Interfaith, a sponsor of the event.

The interfaith festival also was sponsored by the Islamic Society of Frederick, Glade United Church of Christ, United Church of Frederick, St. Katherine Drexel Roman Catholic Church, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Frederick, Beth Sholom Congregation and Congregation Kol Ami of Frederick.

Rukhsana Rahman and Cathy Olson used the evening to catch up. The two have become friends since they began "sharing" an Iraqi teenager who came to the Frederick area as an exchange student. Olsen hosted him in the summer; Rahman got him for the school year.

"I would like to be part of the peace-building process," Janet Borison, a member of the Glade United Church of Christ, told USINFO, "and I want to support whatever my community is doing to advance that process." Borison attended the dinner with her husband and three children. Her son Ian, 17, said "religion doesn't have much to do with who I associate with." Ian's brother, Adam, 6, told USINFO that he learned about Hanukah and Hajj in primary school.

"We all have things to sacrifice for the glory of God, for example, time and money," said Hendi. "By bringing peace and justice, we all have something to contribute."

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

... Payvand News - 12/19/07 ... --

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