2010 Children of Abraham Walk Opposes Intolerance
Article written by the interns at Muslim Consultative Network:
Brooklyn Peace Walk Promotes Coexistence During Challenging Week for Muslims
On Thursday, June 10, the Seventh Annual Children of Abraham Peace Walk stepped into a muddy interfaith minefield—and lived to tell a tale of hope and struggle.
This took place in a week in which hundreds of Staten Island residents jeered at mosque planners at a community board meeting in Staten Island; and thousands opposed a proposed mosque and community center in downtown Manhattan, expressing virulent anti Muslim sentiments and misunderstandings. Video here:
The Children of Abraham Peace Walk was created by a handful of Brooklyn-based interfaith leaders in the wake of 9/11 to deal with just such misunderstandings on a local level. In contrast to a classic peace march, the peace walk promotes trust building among neighbors and not justice issues overseas. Usually it is a quiet and peaceful event; but this year organizers had their hands full.
The 2010 Peace Walk was planned to take place in Sheepshead Bay, to celebrate the community’s religious and cultural diversity and to support the hopes of the new mosque community trying to build from a vacant lot in the face of fear and misunderstanding from a small group of neighbors.
Rain clouds cleared away as diverse Peace Walkers approached the Methodist Church where the program would begin. Another church that was to host the event’s beginning had withdrawn two days before, intimidated by harassing phone calls from the wider community.
The program began in an historic, sunlit church space packed with almost 300 supporters. After prayers and remarks from such allies as Dr Ahmed Jabber and Rabbi Michael Feinberg, as well as Walk Founders like Rev Tom Martinez and Sr. Debbie Almontaser, the procession got going under serious police escort, with ministers, rabbis and imams, Yemeni American teens carrying a hundred fluttering American flags, and mothers of all shape and size with their little children moving past the Sheepshead Bay marina with its shining yachts and seafood restaurants down leafy Brooklyn streets to the site of the planned mosque, where protesters awaited.
Two first-time walk participants working with Muslim Consultative Network can take up the story:
Sister Megan: “One leader of our community started crying when she read the Islamaphobic signs across the way.”
Sister Aminat: “The images at the site from the protestors really shocked me by their hatefulness towards the proposed mosque to be built in the Sheepshead bay area. There were posters around their homes which stated, “M.A.S is not welcome here,” “Muslim Consultative Network: Your Advocacy is Not Wanted Here” and other, more hateful messages.”
Megan: “The other side of the street was surprisingly quiet. I had expected them to be more hateful by yelling out slogans and the like, but they were very peaceful, which contrasted the same handwriting signs that littered the houses. But something that disturbed me was the neighbor that stood taking pictures for nine-tenths of the time we were meeting and eating in the proposed mosque site. His motive was unclear, but it just made me feel like he was going to submit our pictures to the FBI for clearance.”
Once at the site of the proposed mosque, with both sides carrying flags, and short, welcoming speeches, good cheer prevailed along with free delicious sandwiches supplied by Naji Almontaser. Even the refusal of neighbors to take roses from the children, or sandwiches and drinks from adults, did not dampen the spirit. Though at least one or two residents said threatening things, another resident crossed over the barricades to discuss the situation with a mosque supporter. It was easy to see that unlike the anti Islamic rallies at the World Trade Center that these protesters were families just like the mosque families—perhaps separated by only misunderstanding and the lack of dialogue.
Sister Megan: “The image that was most striking was the children that were fluttering about. They were playing and that brought such innocence to the walk. As mentioned, it was also heart warming and heart breaking at the same time to see the children waving and sending greetings to children across the barrier who they might have possibly known from school.”
Sister Aminat: The children made the event successful by them being there it was a reality check on us all that they are our future and we have to pave the way to make it better place for them. The event was really successful– there were a lot of people of all different faiths. We all came together and walked as one, all trying to achieve the same goal, Peace.”