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Interfaith leaders call for day of
fasting to end the Iraq war

Washington, Sept. 26, 2007
Several religious leaders representing tens of millions of faithful Americans stood today in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol calling religious communities of various traditions to a day of fasting and prayer to end the Iraq war. 

"We must return to the ancient disciplines so that we will turn away from violence toward reverence," said Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of the Shalom Center, Philadelphia, to reporters gathered in front of the United Methodist Church office building on Maryland Avenue.

Represented at the news conference were leaders of Muslim, Jewish, Roman Catholic, Unitarian, and Baptist traditions.  The Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana, associate general secretary for interfaith relations at the National Council of Churches USA (NCC), and himself a Baptist, organized the news event.

Ancient practices were used at the news conference in the call to the nation.  The ram's horn, or Jewish shofar, was sounded to "wake up" a nation.  Ashes were placed on the leaders' foreheads as signs of repentance.  A bell was tolled to call America's people of faith to join together on October 8 to fast from dawn to sunset, breaking the fast with their Muslim sisters and brothers.

"When you are fasting for Ramadan, you are enhancing your sense of compassion," said Dr. Sayeed Syeed from the Islamic Society of North America.  "We will be asking mosques to open their doors to people of other faiths around the world on October 8 for prayer and dialogue."

Dr. Syeed said the Islamic Center in nearby Sterling, Va., will open its doors to interfaith neighbors Oct. 8 to break the Ramadan fast together.  Local religious groups are registering events at, a website managed by the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

"From beginning to end the biblical revelation is a revelation of peace," said the Rev. Stan Hastey from the Alliance of Baptists and an officer of the NCC's Governing Board. 

Hastey said the NCC has opposed the war since the beginning and recommended the "withdrawal of troops in an orderly way."  The Baptist leader also called the war "unjust and seemingly unending."

"Our nation is engaged in a horrendous war, one destructive of civilizations and divisive of communities. We have a responsibility to end our violence and to make concrete our compassion for the people of Iraq," said Sister Marge Clark, BVM, a member of Pax Christi USA. 

"May our prayer and fasting bring us to live our responsibility for the precarious world which we have shaped," said Sister Clark, who is also a member of NETWORK, the women religious-led Roman Catholic Social Justice group.

In addition to events in localities members of the internet site Facebook are organizing virtual communities to observe the day of fasting and prayer.  One of the organizers is Alex Winnette from the Unitarian Universalist Association.

"Young people are unfairly and negatively stereotyped.  We believe the opposite is true.  We are connecting to a global effort," said Winnette of the Facebook plans.  "We will take the lessons of our ancestors as inspiration (in this fast)."

Congregations may find material about fasting and other bulletin inserts at as well as an organizing tool kit to hold an event.   A list of sponsoring organizations and individuals endorsing the day of fast is also at that website.

NCC News contact:  Dan Webster, 212.870.2252,

Photos by Leslie Tune


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