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Interfaith healing service held in Clermont, FL to combat hate

By By Linda Charlton / Correspondent, For Daily Commercial, On 16 April 2019, Read Original
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CLERMONT – A month ago on Monday, a gunman attacked worshipers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, leaving 50 dead. Officials in New Zealand have already changed gun laws there in hopes that the March 15 attack will never be repeated.

Much closer to home, faith leaders gathered at the Islamic Center of South Lake County in Clermont Sunday for an interfaith healing service called Humanity in Your Faith. The purpose of the meeting, sponsored by Interfaith Lake County, was not just to lend moral support for a community in pain but to come up with ways to help prevent future attacks.

Speakers were Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Baha’i, and the approximately 150 people in the audience similarly reflected an array of faiths.

The master of ceremonies for the evening, Imam Abdurrahman Sykes, was clear on his reason for being there.

“Islamophobia is on the rise,” Sykes said, describing how the phenomenon has traveled from the United Kingdom to the United States, and from there to the rest of the world. He urged the Muslims in the audience to make sure they have a plan to combat Islamophobia — and to make sure every Islamic house of worship has a security team.

He also appealed to the non-Muslims in the audience, letting them know that right now, the strongest voices for Muslims are going to be the Christians and Jews.

“If you see a Muslim being abused, say something,” Sykes said. “How do we say it? We say it with love, with mercy. If we don’t, we are no better than the perpetrators.”

Jewish speaker Morton Hess, a long-time resident of Central Florida now in his 80s, recalls that when he first came to the area, hate was easy to see.

“I can remember signs on restaurants that said ‘no Jews, niggers or dogs,’” he said. “The underlying hatred remains.”

Hess spoke of acts of chesed, a Hebrew word for kindness, grace and compassion, as being “just what is needed to best the hatred that has raised its head.”


His specific suggestion for tamping down the rhetoric and the acts of hate is to smile at people who you might otherwise look on with suspicion and to try and make friends with those who are different from you.

“There’s nothing like knowing people as people to overcome irrational prejudice,” Hess said.

For speaker Kathy Miller of the Baha’i faith, the plan is “for every thought of hate, think two of love. For every thought of war, think two of peace.”

The South Lake Imam, Dr. Shady Alshorman, challenged those in the audience.

“Ask yourself, am I my brother’s keeper?” he said. “Am I my sister’s keeper?”

Addressing Muslims, he said, “You are my brothers and sisters in faith.” Addressing non-Muslims, he said “You are my equal in humanity. I look in your face and I see mine.”

The evening ended with dinner, but before dinner, there was a question and answer period. A number of the questions were for the sheriff’s representative for the evening, Deputy Don Heath.

Noting that the perpetrator in the New Zealand attacks is an avowed white nationalist, Sandy Haxton asked Heath, “Do you see white nationalism in Lake County.”

His answer: “Do I see white nationalism in Lake County? Yes. Do I see blacks hating whites in Lake County? Yes. Do I see Muslims hating others? That I haven’t seen.”

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