Views of CCJR Members

Muslims, Christians, Jews and others must walk forward together: A 9/11 message



In 2011, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, it seemed as if we were heading in the right direction as a nation. We became wary of knee-jerk Islamophobia. We began to learn how to mourn and to heal together after the 9/11 tragedy: Jews, Christians, Muslims, members of other faiths and backgrounds. As Americans, we took pride in being one nation.

But that momentum has faltered. We saw hatred sanctioned from the highest office in the land. Our country’s original sin of anti-Black racism was followed in quick succession with reemergent anti-Semitism, anti-Asian and Pacific Islander bigotry, and anti-Latino sentiments. Torchlight parades with chants of “Jews will not replace us” epitomized the potent combination of hatreds that culminated in attacks on mosques, synagogues and churches. Americans died at the hands of other Americans. We became our own worst enemy.

Now, as we are approaching the 20th anniversary of 9/11, we Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders believe we must march as a nation united, shoulder to shoulder, advancing our common American ideals.

On Jan. 6, 2021, for the first time in our nation’s long proud history, we did not have a peaceful, uneventful transfer of power. Political parties no longer merely disagree about what is best for the country; they vilify one another, country be damned. We treat one another as enemies rather than as fellow citizens. Now we are testing whether our nation can endure. We have begun to hear a war of words on our television screens and other devices every evening.

We must be “dedicated to the great task remaining before us. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.” As did Lincoln, whose words we have just echoed, we three religious leaders call upon us all to rebuild and become better together.

We can still proclaim that we are a nation of immigrants and descendants of the enslaved, alongside the indigenous communities who called this place their home long before we arrived. We can declare that diversity is what makes our nation strong and ever stronger. We can celebrate our differences, rather than protest and exploit them. We call upon all of America to work as one to repair the breach. Yes, we will disagree; but we must also show common purpose to work through these disagreements.

Both the Koran and the rabbis teach that one who saves a life saves an entire world. It is time for Americans to renew their common commitment to saving our world, one life at a time. As Jewish and Christian scriptures teach, we should love our neighbors as ourselves. We share a sense of purpose to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to heal the sick, to offer housing to the homeless; this extends to the moral imperative to save the very environment, and even to register and vote. Let 9/11 not only be a time of shaking our heads in sorrow, but also of affirming our common mission as Americans.

Inspired by the Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign’s vision of an America where all people, no matter their faith and background, are treated with dignity and respect, we invite all who live in this country, citizens and undocumented, rich and poor, from blue states and red states, to share this moment. Let synagogues, churches, mosques, gurudwaras, temples and every other house of worship, together with every secular community center, find a communal cause to serve, the better to serve our nation.

We can, we must, move forward together as a nation. Let “the better angels of our nature,” as Lincoln put it, lead us to common ground so that, along with every nation under heaven, God may continue to bless America.

Almontaser was the founding principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy, is the CEO of the Building Cultures Group Inc. Kireopoulos is associate general secretary at the National Council of Churches USA. Visotzky serves as Appleman Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies and is director of the Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue at the Jewish Theological Seminary. They are all part of the Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign.