By MAYA KREMEN (STAFF WRITER)
HASBROUCK HEIGHTS -- The mood at the annual Interfaith Brotherhood-Sisterhood brunch on Sunday was mostly one of unity.
Women in headscarves chatted with women in saris.
A minister gamely shouted out "Shalom" to a rabbi.
A founding member called the brunch, which is in its 20th year, "a rainbow coalition."
But when 350 people from six different faiths gather in the same hotel ballroom, there is bound to be some disagreement.
And there was, when a keynote speaker's address about the persecution of Baha'is in Iran touched off anger among some Muslim attendees. Adherents of the Baha'i religion, who number 5 million worldwide, claim that hundreds in Iran have been killed or imprisoned or prevented from practicing basic tenets since the 1970s. The monotheistic religion originated in Persia in 1844 and is now Iran's biggest minority group.
William L. H. Roberts, a national Baha'i leader, spoke about "Freedom to Believe." He condemned the Iranian government's "policy of slow, constant strangulation, discrimination and persecution." Roberts called for those gathered to speak out against all religious persecution, and used as another example an Afghan man who had been facing possible execution for converting from Islam to Christianity.
A court has dismissed the case, which set off an outcry in the United States and other nations. An official in Afghanistan said the man, Abdul Rahman, could soon walk free, perhaps as early as today.
Several Muslims said after the speech that they were offended by what they saw as Roberts' singling out of Islam as a persecuting religion.
"I felt that he's bashing Islam indirectly," said Mehdi Eliefifi, president of the New Jersey Outreach Group, which works to bring different faiths together.
"It feeds into the stereotype, putting examples of bad behavior of individuals and governments as being the main theme of Islam," he said.
Besides religious persecution, Roberts asked members to speak out against genocide in Darfur. He spoke about freedom to worship as a "basic human right," and used as another example of the abuse of this right the persecution of a native religious group in Brazil.
Joy Kurland, an organizer of the brunch and director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, said that she did not think Roberts meant to be divisive.
"Because he is a Baha'i, and because he's involved in the national Baha'i community, he's connected to the issues that resonate with his people," she said.
She added that differences in opinion between groups are a natural occurrence of the growth of the Brotherhood-Sisterhood coalition.
The group, which started as a coalition of North Jersey Jews, Protestants and Catholics in 1987, has grown to encompass Muslims, Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Baha'is.
Since its advent, members have come together to pray for peace in the Middle East and organized an interfaith Seder dinner. The organization has spawned grass-roots programs, such as one in which members of a church and a mosque visit a soup kitchen together.
As the organization has grown, disagreement has occasionally been a part of life, said Rabbi Joshua Finkelstein of Temple Emanuel in Franklin Lakes. Finkelstein said that he often disagrees with Waheed Khalid of Darul Islah, a Teaneck mosque, when they talk about Israel.
"Sometimes conversations are quite pointed," he said. "Sometimes it's like a marriage. But if we can connect here, there's a hope that we can do that in the state, in the nation and in the world."
For Sulekha Kalyan of Ridgewood, the brunch is a time to forget about differences and sectarian conflicts.
"Here we bring what's common between us," said Kalyan, a Hindu woman sitting at a table of Muslims and Sikhs. "From here you see why it's happening, and why it shouldn't be happening. Your horizon broadens."
Darul Islah Imam Saeed Qureshi, who spoke after Roberts, apologized for the persecution of Baha'is in Iran, but also asked those gathered not to judge all Muslims by the actions of a few.
"Today we are together with Muslims who you see and experience as peaceful humans. There are others that call themselves terrorists." If you judge all Muslims by the actions of the terrorists, he said, "there will never be peace."
Publicado no NorthJersey.com, em 27 de Março de 2006
COMENTÁRIO: É natural que os muçulmanos se sintam incomodados quando se refere as perseguições contra os baha’is, ou contra outros grupos minoritários que vivem no seio de sociedades islâmicas. Mas o que é estranho é que alguns muçulmanos se sintam mais ofendidos com os protestos de baha’is (que clamam apenas por justiça e respeito pelos direitos humanos) do que com actos praticados seus irmãos de fé que perseguem as minorias. Esperemos que ninguém caia na tentação de rotular de “islamofobia” qualquer crítica contra os actos de fundamentalistas islâmicos ou regimes totalitários islâmicos.