Faith Co-Op

From left, Rabbi Bruce Greenbaum, Agha Bilal, Dr. David Kolinski and Abdel Seck laugh during an Abrahamic Alliance meeting.

A group of people from three faiths met at Congregation Beth Israel in Carmel May 10 to discuss the burgeoning Abrahamic Alliance of Monterey County. At sunset, when it was time for the evening prayer, the Muslims of the group were unsure of where to pray. Rabbi Bruce Greenbaum led the men into the sanctuary where they knelt facing Mecca and recited Arabic words from the Quran.

For the Christians, Jews and Muslims in attendance, that night was a powerful moment of inclusion and solidarity between faiths too often seen as being at painful odds.

“It was the first time I personally walked into a synagogue,” says Abdel Seck, president of the Islamic Society of Monterey County. ”When we were looking for a place to quietly pray, the rabbi brought us to the sanctuary saying, ‘That’s what it’s here for.’ Imagine if everyone in the world treated each other this way.”

A month later, the group gathers at the Islamic Society in Seaside to plan to prepare food for the homeless. With shoes left by the entrance and 14 men sitting on floor cushions in a room adjacent to the main hall, the sons of Abraham are full of raucous laughter as they crack jokes with new friends.

Where are the daughters of Abraham? So far, planning meetings have been an all-boys club, but members of the group say they are working to change that.

Brian Bajari, a pastor and homeless advocate on the Monterey Peninsula, started to organize the interfaith group locally in the wake of the San Bernardino shootings last December. He reached out to Rod Cardoza, the founder and executive director of the San Jose-based Abrahamic Alliance International, an organization whose mission is to unite Christians, Jews and Muslims for poverty relief efforts. In January, Cardoza started traveling to Monterey County to facilitate monthly meetings and to connect local organizing to international efforts.

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It comes at a time when extremism in the Middle East and terror attacks in the name of jihad capture global headlines, and the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, as well as monitoring the millions who call this country home. Hence the six Christians, four Muslims and four Jews sitting in a mosque and discussing ways to have a community impact together sense the urgency of their efforts.

“Hatred and violence can be vanquished by understanding and working with each other,” Bajari says. “It’s crucial that we as a community learn about one another and live as neighbors, even if we have religious differences.”

Using the kitchen at Congregation Beth Israel, people of three faiths prepared food and served dozens of homeless at Del Monte Beach on April 10. The Abrahamic Alliance plans to provide food for homeless again on July 31 as they work toward creating more consistent outreach.

“There’s a lot of misunderstanding about the Muslim community and anger directed toward them,” Greenbaum says. “It’s important to get to know Muslims, to see they are wonderful, loving people who care about their greater community like the rest of us.”

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