On the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, a West Philadelphia imam told several hundred people gathered for the city's official memorial that the horrors of that day had alerted him to the need for interfaith engagement.
"It was a wake-up call," Imam Anwar Muhaimin of the Quba Institute said as he stood at the podium with Independence Hall as the backdrop.
Standing alongside him were Archbishop Charles Chaput — installed last week as the head of Philadelphia archdiocese — Bishop Claire Schenot Burkat of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and Rabbi David Straus, president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
The four are the co-conveyors of the Religious Leaders Council of Philadelphia, a group of more than 25 Jewish, Christian and Muslim clerics affiliated with the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia. The group organized a separate interfaith Sept. 11 memorial that took place right before the city's event. About 100 people attended that.
The council has been urging people to sign an online pledge (phillyuniteson911.org) that reads: "We the People of Greater Philadelphia unite in grief, remembrance and hope, stand for justice, tolerance and compassion, commit to building community, understanding and a more perfect union."
"After 9/11, I was faced with a series of questions," Muhaimin told the crowd.
In the immediate aftermath, he recalled being defensive, saying, when asked, that the actions of the hijackers did not represent his faith. Later, he said, he felt compelled to speak out against extremism more directly and to seek commonality with his fellow religious leaders.
"I am proud to stand before you today to say it has been an experience of growth and understanding," he said about his work with the council.
Muhaimin also recounted the story of an Egyptian student staying with his family. After being introduced to Jewish youths for the first time, the student said that he had always disliked Jews, but realized how senseless that was since he had never met any.
"We have to at least talk to other people," said Muhaimin.
Straus, religious leader of Main Line Reform Temple-Beth Elohim, did not speak at the Sept. 11 event but said in an interview Tuesday that he and the other religious leaders thought it most appropriate for Muhaimin to address the gathering.
"I thought it very important to have a Muslim voice be present," said Straus. "The symbolism of a Catholic, a Jew, a Muslim and a Protestant standing together, that's part of what was under attack on 9/11."