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9-11 Sparks Interfaith Dialog In WV

September 9, 2011

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The last 10 years in West Virginia have seen a rise in interfaith dialogue, often in direct response to the backlash against Muslims here and in other parts of the nation.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, members of the Islamic Mosque in Charleston expected backlash - but were surprised to find their door decorated with flowers, notes and candles. Ehteshamul Haque, imam of the Islamic Association of West Virginia, says they have had windows broken and graffiti painted on their building - but have also seen a growth in interfaith connections.

One youth event this year could be described like the setup for a joke, Haque says, recalling the time he went bowling with a local priest and rabbi.

"People were surprised that imam and rabbi and the priest they are bowling, and children were all mixed together, and Muslims and Jews and Christians they are playing together."

Since 9/11, Haque says, there has been both a great curiosity about Islam and a desire on the part of Muslims to answer that curiosity.

The rabbi in the bowling trio was Victor Urecki of the B'nai Jacob Synagogue in Charleston. Before 9/11, Urecki says, Jews and Muslims were deeply divided by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Since then, he says, they've become more interested in things the faiths share, such as rules about what people can eat. He says the anti-Islamic backlash was a shock for many Jews.

"The rhetoric that was being said about the Islamic faith was a mirror of what many Jews experienced when we first came to this country. Foreigners coming in with strange ways, strange habits, strange dietary traditions."

The Rev. Dennis Sparks, executive director of the West Virginia Council of Churches, says 9/11 has led to some positive developments such as the rise in interfaith dialogue, but also some negative issues.

"We still have people living in fear, and when various issues come up in the news about the location of a mosque in your community or something, there's a lot of people that kind of jump on those."

A multi-faith peace prayer for 9/11 will be held at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at St John's Episcopal Church, 1105 Quarrier St., in downtown Charleston.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV