From coast to coast, neighbors find common ground during World Interfaith Harmony Week

Every year, United Religions Initiative Cooperation Circles all over the world host events to celebrate World Interfaith Harmony Week. This first week of February brings people of all different faith traditions together to create a culture of peace, love, and understanding.

In 2010, King Abdullah II of Jordan addressed the United Nations about his desire for faith-driven world harmony, and proposed Interfaith Harmony Week. This week, celebrated in the first week of February every year, seeks to unite the basic principles of humanity and kindness that each faith is built upon. Soon, this idea was turned into an official UN Observance Event. In 2017, events took place across the United States and Canada celebrating World Interfaith Harmony Week.

In Syracuse, New York, over 500 people gathered for the Seventh Annual World Interfaith Harmony Assembly. This year’s event, organized by United

World Interfaith Harmony Assembly was attended by hundreds of people celebrating the diversity and commonalities of their faiths.

Religions Initiative Cooperation Circles Interfaith Works and Women Transcending Boundaries, had the biggest turnout to date, with hundreds packing the University United Methodist Church to show support for one another. Representatives from twelve different religions participated in the assembly under the theme “Love is the Answer.” Each group took turns presenting when and why their faith teaches that love is the answer.

Next year, the assembly will take place at a place of worship from another faith tradition.

“It’s great that we have this event at different locations each year for everyone to get a unique experience,” said Danya Wellmon, one of the organizers of the event.

Bound together by World Interfaith Harmony Week, hundreds of miles away a group of people Danya has never met work towards the same goal — giving people a unique experience of their neighbor’s faith.

In Fremont, California, over 150 people attended World Interfaith Harmony Day, an event sponsored by the Tri-City Interfaith Council, which is a United Religions Initiative Cooperation Circle; the Fremont Human Relations Commission; and the Alameda County Human Relations Commission.

At the event, sixteen different faith communities set up tables with literature and artistic displays showcasing their tradition. After about an hour of people visiting these tables, participants were broken into small groups for discussion with people from different traditions. In these groups, each person took turns speaking about how their faith compels them to help their neighbors.

“This year, [rather than having a panel discussion] we decided to have people interact with each other at a lay level. You should see human beings and hear their stories. When you meet ordinary people, they share stories. Personal stories are very powerful,” said organizer Moina Shaiq.

Though across the country from one another, organizers of both these events felt the same way: the timing of World Interfaith Harmony week this year was especially appropriate given the current political atmosphere.

“You can see the rising anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and the increase of fear within people it’s caused, which is why we need these type of events,” said Wellmon.

At the event in Fremont, Muslims community members were able to share their concern and fear about living in the current political climate.

“People are starting to make the connection [of] why we are so sacred,” said Shaiq, who is a Muslim herself.

“We made our way to the Gurdwara Sahib Brookside in the snowy blizzard. This is place of worship for the Sikhs … Surinder, our host, received us graciously in the community kitchen.”

In Surrey, British Columbia, a community of people set out to make more of these types of connections happen — to unite people of different faiths and traditions together to show support and further understanding of one another, as well as to build solidarity with the victims and families who had lost relatives in the Quebec shooting. Despite the Third Annual Surrey Interfaith Pilgrimage being canceled due to heavy snow, a group of people still made the pilgrimage, which consisted of a long, cold walk through Surrey to visit seven different places of worship.

By the end of the pilgrimage, the group had visited six houses of worship — a Buddhist temple, Hindu Mandir (temple), Christian church, Muslim Masjid and two Sikh Gudwaras. At these places of worship, members of each faith welcomed the visitors, conversed, and built bridges. At the Hindu Mandir, participants were treated to a meal in a traditional spiritual offering ceremony.

“When we are confronted with deep loss, fear often emerges in our thoughts,” said participant Scott Reynolds “Walking and sharing a meal together is a tangible, bodily demonstration of unity that reminds us to let go of fear and move forward in love.”

Connie Watermon, one of the event organizers, stressed the possibility for interfaith work to create peace, and why these events are so important.

“Each one of us has the ability, individually and collectively, to be compassionate, selfless, and loving. These attributes are strengthened by religious values taught by all the world’s great religions,” she said. “Together we can create a better world by concentrating all the thoughts of our heart on love and unity, [and] then aligning our actions to reflect that thought.”

You can read more about World Interfaith Harmony Week events celebrated across Canada, the US and world, by clicking hereIf you would like to get involved in interfaith work and/or the United Religions Initiative, click here to find the Cooperation Circle nearest you.

This piece was written by URI North America Storytelling Intern Ryan Polsky.