Jews, Muslims gather on MLK weekend

More than 200 people made sandwiches for the homeless as part of an interfaith dialogue event held by Hill Havurah, Masjid Muhammad and the Islamic Society. Photo by Dan Schere

A chavurah and two Muslim congregations marked the Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend by gathering in a Washington church to talk about the need for religious tolerance, with speakers focusing their remarks on the younger generation.

“Do you know what a lawyer is?” attorney Rabia Chaudry said to the children, who sat at the front of the 200 people in the fellowship hall at Washington City Church of the Brethren.

They knew, saying that lawyers were involved in prosecuting and defending criminal cases.

Chaudry, who is Muslim, told them about her social justice work — spending nearly two decades advocating for the release of

Adnan Syed, a family friend who was sentenced to life plus 30 years for the murder of his former girlfriend in Baltimore — and advising them that results may not come quickly in social justice advocacy.

The crowd listening to her came from the Hill Havurah, which put together the day’s program; Masjid Muhammad (The Nation’s Mosque) and the Islamic Society of the Washington Area. The event also included making sandwiches together to feed the city’s homeless people.

Chaudry brought Syed’s case to the creators of NPR’s “This American Life” in 2014, which resulted in the award-winning podcast “Serial.”

She told The Washington Post that Baltimore police “went after Adnan because he was Muslim and Pakistani.”

Chaudry said support for Syed and other Muslims is her civil rights cause, but one that has seen slow progress.

“Results might not come for generations later. So don’t do the work of justice needing immediate results,” she told her young listeners.

“If we think about Dr. Martin Luther King, we think about these icons who we revere today. Do they see the fruits of their labor in their lives? Many of them don’t.”

A District of Columbia police liaison told the group that people want to feel safe, no matter their race, religion, gender or minority status.

“Some day you’re going to grow up and be the big people in the audience,” Lt. Brett Parson said to the youngsters, reminding them and their parents of the need for relationships between the police and diverse communities to exist before crises occur.

This was the Hill Havurah’s second interfaith King celebration. Rabbi Hannah Spiro said she was heartened by the sight of her congregants “spending more time with people they don’t know.”

Washington resident Melanie Egorin said the simple gesture of faiths coming together during the King weekend gave her hope about the future.

“I think as we live in a more hyper-divided society, the fact that folks are willing to come out on a 19- degree day to have this conversation” is a hopeful thing, she said.

Washington resident Jody Heckman-Bose said she felt encouraged.

“Today has been a great day of bringing communities together, and we can see those friendships forming,” she said. “The fight is long.”

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