I was pleased to learn that Seattle Quakers helped organize a "meeting for healing and hope" in response to the hate crime committed in Norway by a deranged Islamophobe named Anders Behring Brevik. I was also pleased that one of the participants in this Quaker gathering was Jamal Rahman, a Sufi interfaith minister whom I invited to take part in a panelt discussion at Friends General Conference gathering in Tacoma, WA, a few years ago. Raham often works in a trio that include a rabbi and a minister who are also committed to building interfaith understanding.
July 29, local Christians and Muslims worshipped together and celebrated diversity in remembrance of the Norway attacks.
Held at the Quaker University Friends Meeting in Seattle, the Meeting for Grief and Hope focused on community, multiculturalism and acceptance.
The event came about because of Susanne Kromberg, a hospital chaplain and native Norwegian, who said she felt moved to reach out to the local Muslim community after attending the Nordic Heritage Museum’s vigil for Norway in Ballard.
“What was important to us in doing this is recognizing that the young people in Norway who were targeted, were targeted because of their commitment to an open and inclusive society,” she said.
Kromberg initiated the Meeting for Grief and Hope with fellow Quaker Rick Ells and they invited Rahman, a Muslim imam from the Interfaith Community Church in Ballard, to speak at the event.
“It seemed important to us for Christians and Muslims to worship together to heal some wounds that have been created over the past week’s events,” said Kromberg. “It seemed important to acknowledge that Norwegians come in all shapes and sizes and colors, and when we talk about Norwegian religion, it’s not just Lutheran. There are Norwegian Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. We wanted to honor that, and honor the vision of community that these kids had.”
Rahman said he was pleased to have the opportunity to join with other religions in furtherance of a multicultural and community ideology. He said that living in Ballard and being a Muslim caused the Norway attacks to affect him on a personal and communal level.
“I think we all want to demonstrate that this is not just a Norwegian problem, or an Arab problem or a Muslim problem. This is a human problem,” he said. “What happened in Norway was actually an assault on humanity.”
Ells said that the worship service, held in traditional Quaker-style, was designed to help people get past their anxieties and preoccupations, and give people a chance to use the process of worship to respond to the Norway tragedy.
“We had a number of members that were feeling stuck,” he said. “So we decided to pull together in worship, to help us know how to go forward.”
Kromberg added that her motivation stemmed from her desire to stress how much humans need each other. She said that she read a Norwegian article about a 13-year-old Muslim girl named Sophia who was considering leaving Norway to keep her friends safe.
“Sophia wrote that she felt so guilty that these kids died because of her,” Kromberg said. “People responded by saying that Norway needed her. That is our purpose, to say that we need each other. This kind of event strips us down to our humanity so we can see each other as brothers and sisters, and say we need each other.”
Mari-Ann Kind Jackson, a native of Norway who now lives near Ballard, has friends and family in Norway. She attended both the vigil at the Nordic Heritage Museum and the Meeting for Grief and Hope. Jackson said that having an additional interfaith event was extremely important and significant in light of the Norway attacks.
“There are so many wonderful people in Norway who are not ethnic Norwegians,” Jackson said. “We need to recognize them and need to be with them so that we are truly together. I felt that this event was one way to do that, to share with other cultures and faiths.”
Wayne Benenson, a member of the South Seattle Meeting Quakers, agreed. He added that this tragedy gave him a chance to honor similarities and celebrate differences.
“Through this incident I’ve been given an opportunity to practice not shutting down, to practice being a citizen of the world, and to practice my belief that love is stronger than hate,” he said. “It’s not easy, but I do it because it takes too much energy to shut down.”
The service began with words from Kromberg followed by a prayer from Rahman. Quakers and Muslims together lent their voices to a traditional Muslim chant, as Rahman recited a Muslim prayer.
A time for silence and reflection followed, with members adding comments of hope and community. After the service, those in attendance placed red roses at the Sadako statue located on the street behind the worship room.
Rahman said the victims of the Norway tragedy proved that getting to know each other on a personal level is possible: “When I listen to the words of the noble teenagers on that island, it gives me hope and heals my wounds. They remind me that no matter what your differences are, they no longer need to loom as a threat.”