Perfecting one’s humanity was the theme for this year’s interfaith gathering of Harford County’s Jewish, Christian and Muslim congregations, who celebrated their common religious heritage and the legacy of civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“This is a kind of dialogue that we need to happen more, to make this place a better place for our next generation, for our children,” said Dr. Rehan Khan, president of the congregation of the Masjid Al Falaah mosque in Abingdon.
The annual event is organized by the leaders of St. James AME Church and Temple Adas Shalom, both in Havre de Grace, as well as Masjid Al Falah, and the location rotates to a different one of the three houses of worship each year. The event, held Sunday, happened at the mosque this year.
Members of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths, all of whom have a common heritage in the Biblical prophet Abraham, filled a prayer room in the mosque. Khan noted Muslims see Christians and Jews as “people of the book,” the same as Muslims — all three have a holy book, including the Bible for Christians, the Torah for Jews and the Quran for Muslims.
“We [all] are the descendants of Abraham and they have a book, we have a book ... this is what we need to strengthen the bonds,” Khan said.
Participants spent about two hours hearing selections from Christian, Jewish and Islamic teachings that relate to King’s legacy of urging Americans to judge each other by their character rather than the color of their skin and the event’s theme of “perfecting our humanity,” plus watching a short video about King’s emphasis on service to fellow human beings and then breaking into discussion groups to discuss themes raised in the video.
The group sang several songs, such as “Amazing Grace,” “America the Beautiful” and “We Shall Overcome,” then had time at the end of the event to eat pizza and socialize.
Rabbi John Franken, of Temple Adas Shalom, read a teaching from the sage Rabbi Hillel, who put forth three questions:
If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?
When I am for myself alone, what am I?
If not now, then when?
Franken said those three questions mean that each person is created in God’s image and has “intrinsic divine worth,” so people must be true to themselves and be their own advocate, followed by how people also must care for “our brothers and sisters, who are also created in God’s image,” and finally, there is “no better time than now” to care for oneself or others.
“Each of us is holy, each of us has worth, each of us has responsibility — one for the other — and now is the time,” Franken said. “Not tomorrow, not next week, not next year, but now, now, now.”
The Rev. Baron Young, pastor of St. James AME Church, relayed the Parable of the Good Samaritan, from the Gospel of Luke. Jesus tells the story of a Samaritan who comes upon a traveler on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, a man who is lying in the road after being attacked by robbers.
A priest and a Levite have already passed the victim without helping. The Samaritan, however, stops to help the man, treats his wounds and takes him to an inn. Jesus asked a challenger who, of the three — priest, Levite and Samaritan — is the victim’s neighbor. The challenger responded that the neighbor was “he who showed mercy on” the victim, meaning the Samaritan.
“As we come together this weekend, across the nation [to remember King], we must ponder and conclude, who is our neighbor?” Young said.
“Who is our neighbor?” Young continued. “Anyone who is in need.”
Khan emphasized the similarities between Islam, Christianity and Judaism, such as a reverence for Biblical figures such as Abraham and Noah, and the principle of “love thy neighbor.”
“The Quran says that, ‘We have not created you, but to worship God,’” Khan said. “That is what the purpose of our existence on Earth is, to worship God.”
Khan invited Abdullah Kobil, a member of the masjid, to read a section from the Quran and discuss how it relates to King’s vision of a world in which people are not judged by the color of their skin.
Kobil, a Bel Air resident, recited Verse (49:13), which states that men and women have been created and grouped into peoples and tribes “that you may know one another.”
“'Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you,'” Kobil recited.
God made people with different skin colors and put them into different tribes and cultures, but his priority is for people to be righteous, according to Kobil.
“For our mission on Earth is to be godly, that is to be righteous, to follow his laws and commandments,” Kobil said.
People should celebrate each other’s differences and serve each other while on Earth, because God will ask people, when they are judged, if they served those in need, if they shared their religious faith with others.
“The closer we are to the Abrahamic faith, the closer we become to humanity, the more human we are,” Kobil said. “And that’s MLK’s vision, when he talks about judging people by their actions and not their skin color.”
Raguiatou Diallo, a Belcamp resident and member of the mosque, held her 2-year-old sister, Taibou, while she listened to members of the clergy and the congregations give their thoughts on the religious teachings and King’s legacy.
Diallo, 18, is a student at Harford Community College; she has been to at least two prior interfaith gatherings to celebrate King.
“Everybody is here for the same cause, and everybody wants to be accepted at the end of the day, and it starts here, building connections with different people,” Diallo said of what she has learned at the different events.
As for her hopes of what her toddler sister might learn from such gatherings, “I hope that, just because she lives in a world where there are people that are different from her, she knows that shouldn’t stop her from integrating with everybody that surrounds her,” Diallo said.