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When the World Trade Center towers were felled 10 years ago Sunday by terrorist-commandeered jets, the Rev. Dr. Hiltrude Nusser-Telfer happened to be in New York and rushed to Lower Manhattan to join with other clerics in ministry to survivors.
But when few such survivors came to a nearby New York Harbor pier, those men and women of the cloth, from a variety of faiths, instead provided prayer and comfort for the police, firefighters, and civilian volunteers who had converged on the Twin Towers site and needed respite from the grim and daunting task of finding remains in the trade center’s rubble.
Dr. Nusser-Telfer recounted that scene of camaraderie Friday evening during an Interfaith Prayer Vigil at the Toledo Muslim Community Center in Sylvania Township. She and other leaders from numerous Toledo-area houses of worship and other religious organizations urged about 60 in attendance to pursue peace and unity to oppose those who would divide with violence like that of Sept. 11, 2001.
“These days remind me how absolutely my stomach fell apart 10 years ago,” said Tim Philabaum, pastor of Zoar Lutheran Church in Perrysburg. “But God is merciful,” he said before praying for guidance for every mosque, church, and synagogue.
In remarks that opened the hour-long vigil, TMCC President Mohammed Elnahal said his mosque’s purpose in hosting the service was to emphasize “solidarity, togetherness, peace, and the love of our country.” Since its founding three years ago, he said, members of the West Sylvania Avenue mosque have done community service in many ways, including visiting other local religious institutions, helping the less fortunate in the area, and reaching out to the victims of recent natural disasters in New Jersey and Texas.
“History has taught us that terrorism is not a religious-based phenomenon, but it is rather a product of poverty, ignorance, and living under dictatorships and oppressive regimes that control people and violate their basic human rights,” Mr. Elnahal said.
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Dr. S. Masseh Rehman, president of the United Muslim Association of Toledo, elaborated by asserting that the al-Qaeda terrorists’ efforts to “hijack” Islam had failed.
“You represent nobody,” he said. “You call yourself Muslims, but you are not even human beings. … We are more together, more unified, and nothing you do, nothing you think you can do, can ever break this bond.”
The anniversary of the attacks — during which nearly 3,000 people died in New York, Washington, and a Pennsylvania field where an aircraft crashed after a passenger insurrection against its hijackers — is reviving emotions “of all kinds,” said Father James Pfeiffer, ecumenical minister of the Catholic Diocese of Toledo.
“Fear, anxiety, anger, grief, and even revenge,” he said, “but also “hope, reconciliation, and love.”
The interfaith vigil, Father Pfeiffer said, reflects “a common desire for peace and understanding.” He urged those in attendance to “fill in the trenches of hatred and make smooth the paths” of unity.
Rabbi Moshe Saks, of Congregation B’nai Israel said he will always remember a description by his cousin, a now-retired FBI agent, of the Trade Center scene: of civilians “doing whatever they could” to assist the rescue effort and the rescuers themselves.
“Nobody asked, ‘What religion are you?’ Everybody was the same, all helped those who needed help,” Mr. Saks said. “We need to not only remember the victims, but make a vow to build bigger and better bridges of peace.”
Joe Zielinski, co-vice chairman of the MultiFaith Council of Northwest Ohio, was one of several speakers who described those killed in related war and terror attacks after 9/11 as additional victims of that day’s events. He urged vigil-goers to “get beyond the mourning” and strive to make the world a better place.
“How do I help, how do I reach out?” he said. “How do I live my faith and be compassionate with my neighbor?”
Daniel Graves, the youth-group pastor at Toledo First Seventh-Day Adventist Church, said he heard about the terror attacks on the radio while being home-schooled, but that 9/11 affected his generation “not for the bad, but for the good” because it inspired young people to see “areas of common ground where we can work together” rather than divide.
“What was supposed to split America has brought my generation together for service,” Mr. Graves said.
And Farooq Abo Elzahab, imam of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, called on national leaders to bring an end to violence while repeating that terrorists’ efforts to induce fear and division have failed.
“Yes, we are diverse,” he said, “but we are one family under God. Our children study at the same schools, and play on the same playground.”
Contact David Patch at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6094.