Earlier this month, when Dr. Nabile Safdar addressed 400 people, the majority Muslims, during the Islamic Speakers Bureau’s annual gala in Atlanta, he didn’t ignore the elephant in the room: the Israeli-Hamas war.
“This (war) has brought some of us closer. In some cases it’s led to some distance and suspicion within the community, and between communities and individuals,” Safdar said at the event, which included Jews and Christians in the audience.
Some people had suggested that the Islamic Speakers Bureau (ISB) cancel the event, but organizers felt it was important to hold it at this time.
The last few weeks were difficult for many in attendance at the ISB gala. Some had lost friends and relatives. Others knew people being held hostage after Hamas militants mounted a surprise Oct. 7 attack and Israeli retaliated with airstrikes on Gaza. At one point during the event, a rabbi, an imam and a Christian pastor shared the stage, each calling for understanding among faiths and people.
Atlanta has long been known as a city in which interfaith and multi-cultural efforts have addressed divisive issues such as civil and voting rights, climate change, diversity and inclusion, and sought ways to build on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of a beloved community.
Recently, a group of interfaith leaders and activists met near the King Center, calling for a ceasefire. There have also been separate rallies in support of Israel and of Palestinians.
But the war has left people horrified, in a state of shock with anger and grief, said Safdar, chairman of the Atlanta-based ISB.
Traditionally, interfaith work brings people together from various religions and backgrounds to find common ground and to promote understanding, dialogue, acceptance and respect. But the work of joining these communities together has been strained since the war began, and some say longstanding interfaith partners have gone silent in the face of raw emotions surrounding the war.
“There’s definitely some discomfort, but we’ve had similar circumstances before that are usually related to Israel and Palestine,” said Audrey Galex, community engagement director at the Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters Network, whose husband has several family members who are being held hostage.
“It’s hard to really give a clear interfaith message when there’s so much death and destruction going on,” Galex said. “It does put a strain (on interfaith work) but it doesn’t stop things. To me it makes it all the more important to double down on our efforts to hear each other’s pain, listen to each other’s stories and find a way to work together.”
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