Braving a stormy night, a group of people from the diverse religious communities of the Bay Area gathered together last Thursday, to celebrate what has been happening recently in Egypt and to join in prayer for the people of Egypt and all those in the region. Prayers were offered from Muslim, Christian, and Jewish traditions, and music was provided by the choir of the host church, Campbell United Methodist, in cooperation with the Cantor of Temple Emanu-El in San Jose, Meeka Simerly.
Following a traditional call to prayer (adhan) from the Muslim tradition, Rev. Andrew Kille, Director of Interfaith Space in San Jose, noted that the nonviolent demonstrations in Egypt had taken place during the Season for Nonviolence, a 64-day period spanning the time from January 30th, the anniversary of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi to April 4, the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Season is not focused on their deaths, but on the nonviolent vision they carried, and which continues today. The Season now also recalls Cesar Chavez, the nonviolent leader from San Jose. The height of the demonstrations also took place during World Interfaith Harmony Week, and offered the remarkable sights of Muslims and Coptic Christians protecting one another’s worship, and joining together to chant, “Muslim, Christian, we’re all Egyptian!”
Congressman Mike Honda conveyed his greetings and best wishes to those gathered in a letter which said, in part, “Tonight’s event will celebrate a watershed moment in Egypt’s history, one that highlights the enduring strength of the principles of free speech, nonviolence. and freedom.” Other program leaders, including Rev. Alan Jones (Campbell United Methodist), Samina Sundas (American Muslim Voice), Rabbi Dana Magat (Temple Emanu-El), Rev. Bruce Bramlett (Episcopal), Zahra Billoo (CAIR), and Saira Lari, focused on the noticeable non-violence and interreligious cooperation evident in the Egyptian demonstrations.
Saira Lari, a local Muslim woman from Palo Alto, was studying at Al- Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt when the demonstrations began. She described the amazing ways in which people moved beyond the fear which had paralyzed them for so many years under the Mubarak government. She said, “I experienced a powerful event in Egypt – where people from all walks of life came together peacefully, both Muslim and Christian, religious and non-religious, poor, rich, educated and uneducated, men, women and children to demand a change to their current situation. The one common factor I saw is that they came without fear and with a desire to improve their lives. I am impressed that they could accomplish so much despite the current living situations, despite pressure from the government and despite their own differences with each other. I hope we can take a lesson from the Egyptians – that we can all come together for one cause and make a real change.”
The event was sponsored by the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council, a meeting place for religious communities that builds interreligious harmony and understanding so as to promote a just and compassionate society in Silicon Valley. Among the goals of SiVIC are building relationships among religious communities, encouraging shared action and service, and being a resource for information and referral in the South Bay.