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NCC Urges Churches to Mark Sept. 11, 2002,
By Extending Hospitality to Muslim Neighbors

May 14, 2002, Harrisburg, Pa. - After the Sept. 11 attacks, hundreds of Islamic centers and mosques across the United States held open houses, inviting their neighbors of other faiths in to grieve together and build bridges of understanding.

"For many Christians, it was their first occasion to enter a mosque and talk with a Muslim," commented the Rev. Dr. Jay Rock, Interfaith Relations director for the National Council of Churches. "Muslims for their part wanted their neighbors of other faiths to understand who they really were - not terrorists, but peace-loving, PTA-going, regular Americans who came here from all parts of the world."

Now the National Council of Churches is urging Christian congregations to hold interfaith open houses on or around Sept. 11, 2002, thus commemorating the first anniversary of the attacks by extending hospitality to their Muslim neighbors.

The "Open Doors: Interfaith Hospitality Project" received unanimous approval by the NCC’s Executive Board, meeting May 14-15 in Harrisburg. Resources are available on the NCC’s Web site at www.ncccusa.org/interfaith/openhouse-intro.html and include "Steps in Planning and Holding an Open House," "Help to Find Muslims Living Near You," "The Experience of One Congregation in Christian-Muslim Dialogue," "After the Open House - Going Forward Together," "Basic Facts About Islam, and Resources" and "Hospitality."

"As we approach Sept. 11, 2002, people already are talking about commemorative books and programs to look at what last year’s attacks have meant for our common life," said Dr. Barbara Brown Zikmund of Rockville, Md., co-chair of the NCC’s Interfaith Relations Commission.

The commission designed the "Open Doors" project as "a very simple and grassroots way" for churches to continue to build good communication between Christians and Muslims in local communities, she said.

"After the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, churches across the nation spontaneously opened their doors for people to come in to pray," Dr. Rock said. "There was an upsurge of people seeking out religious institutions as a place to reorient themselves. Also during those days, responsible leaders reminded us that it was a group of Islamist terrorists, and not Islam nor ordinary American Muslims, that had attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"As we looked ahead to the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, we thought, wouldn’t it be great to have our congregations open their doors once again, this time specifically to their Muslim neighbors?," he said. "In some cases they’ll be reciprocating for open houses already held, in others it will be a new overture."

The "Open Doors" project was developed in consultation with major U.S. Muslim organizations and is being promoted through the NCC’s 36 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican member communions. The idea and materials will also be made available through state, regional and local ecumenical and interfaith councils, Dr. Rock said, which can help local congregations coordinate their open houses as community-wide events.

Congregations also may be in direct contact with either Jay Rock: jrock@ncccusa.org or Jane Smith at Hartford Seminary’s Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations: jismith@hartsem.edu.

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