As a lifelong interfaith junkie, I remember attending an interesting annual event a few years ago called the 9/11 Unity Walk here in Washington DC which brought people of all different races and religions together in a spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood to honor the tragic legacy of the September 11 attacks on our beloved country. Even though I already had quite a bit of extensive experience within the global interfaith arena, the 9/11 Unity Walk was truly the first time that I had seen so many different houses of worship open their doors collectively on the same day during the same one-day event; especially here in the beltway of Washington DC.
The mission of the 9/11 Unity Walk is to help bring “together people of all ages, backgrounds and faiths to learn to respect each other through a framework of experiential education, compassionate leadership and intentional service. The Unity Walk seeks to create a world where we are united rather than divided by our many faiths.” As the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks quickly comes upon us, I recently sat down with 9/11 Unity Walk founder Kyle Poole to talk about the legacy that they wish to leave for future generations interested in learning about their diverse neighbors of different backgrounds.
“First of all, as a Presbyterian from North Carolina, I realized shortly after 9/11 that there were many people of all stripes out there who wanted to learn about each other and different religions,” Poole told me. Through their outreach to local Washington churches, synagogues, mosques and temples, the Unity Walks have been successful in securing “all houses of worship on Embassy Row in Washington to open their doors for each other in commemoration of 9/11.”
“This year, the 9/11 Unity Walk starts off at Washington Hebrew, the largest synagogue congregation in the Washington DC metropolitan area, with a Muslim call to prayer,” Poole told me. “After that, we will all go to a Christian church where evangelicals will proudly speak in tongues and then proceed to the Washington Islamic Center, where Jewish cantors will sing over mosque loudspeakers and African American gospel singers who sang for the pope sing Amazing Grace at the mosque.”
This year’s 9/11 Unity Walk will culminate in Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson leading the hundreds of processional walkers to his grandfather’s memorial while the diverse crowd will sing along together to O Happy Day! Additionally, some of this year’s prominent slate of speakers include Maureen Fiedler, host of WAMU Radio’s Interfaith Voices, Rabbi Bruce Lustig of Washington Hebrew congregation and 9/11 Unity Walk keynote speaker Karen Armstrong; winner of the 2008 TED Grand Prize and world-renowned author of A History of God.
Although this is an annual local event for us Washingtonians, the 9/11 Unity Walk has garnered international support from such luminaries as 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu. His video endorsement from South Africa for last year’s 2010 Unity Walk. This year, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has offered his own video testimonial showing his public support for this year’s 10th anniversary 9/11 Unity Walk which will take place Sunday afternoon.
Like my Jewish sisters and Christian brothers from around the city, I will walk again, hand-in-hand, with my neighbors at the 9/11 Unity Walk to show the world that we Americans shall persevere together as one nation in the face of any tragedy that may befall our wonderful nation; now and forever more.
Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights, founder of TheMuslimGuy.com and managing editor of The Crescent Post in Washington DC.