Communication Bridges Differences at the 9th Annual Interfaith Solidarity March

9th Annual Interfaith Solidarity March in Los Angeles promotes peace and interfaith dialogue
9th Annual Interfaith Solidarity March in Los Angeles promotes peace and interfaith dialogue

Muslims, Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, Scientologists, and members of other faiths and beliefs or none affirmed their commitment to interfaith dialogue in June at the 9th Annual Interfaith Solidarity March in Los Angeles. Marchers gathered at St. Basil Catholic Church on Wilshire Blvd. The driving force behind the march and the movement is Dr. Arik Greenberg, founder and president of the Institute for Religious Tolerance, Peace and Justice (IRTPJ), which sponsors the annual activity. Rev. Olivia McDuff of the Church of Scientology International, who served as master of ceremonies, acknowledged Dr. Greenburg for his commitment to bringing the Los Angeles interfaith community together in the name of freedom of worship or belief while rejecting all efforts to foment conflict and hatred among faiths. 

Marchers gathered at St. Basil Catholic Church for a rally before taking off down Wilshire Blvd. to promote their cause. “Step outside your comfort zone,” was the challenge delivered by IRTPJ board member Mohammed Khan. He urged those marching to seek out and walk with someone they didn’t already know—someone of another faith than their own—and to learn something about that person and from that person: What they are concerned about, what is important to them. That is the best way to break down walls and gain understanding, he said.

As in other marches, a megaphone-wielding leader urged those participating to shout slogans. But in this march, the message was one of uniting, not protest, with the purpose of encouraging all Angelenos to work together for peace.

Understanding among diverse communities is particularly important when there are false narratives in circulation. Aziza Hasan, Executive Director of New Ground: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change, spoke of just how insidious false information can be. She shared her story of the intense backlash she and other Muslims experienced after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. 

“As Americans and Muslims, we were upset and grieving along with everyone else,” she said, but because of their faith and ethnicity, Muslims became the target. She described how her interfaith colleagues “made a human chain around us...they were there for us when it mattered.” They demanded people treat Muslim Americans with respect. The support she received from people of various faiths bolstered her and affirmed the importance of the interfaith movement.

At the end of the march, Father Alexei Smith, Ecumenical and Interreligious Officer of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, moderated a panel discussion on the crisis in Gaza and Israel. 

Fr. Smith explained why he is not working for “tolerance.” Tolerance implies putting up with someone or something. “We’re certainly much beyond merely putting up with other religions,” he said “and we should allow ourselves to be open to other faiths. Allow them to nurture us as we nurture and encourage them.”

Although no consensus was reached with the panel discussion, Fr. Smith was not discouraged. “We don’t always agree. But we must not let our disagreements prevent us from working together for the greater good,” he said.

The Los Angeles Interfaith March for Peace and Justice coalition is the largest coalition of interfaith marches in the world. The Institute for Religious Tolerance, Peace, and Justice serves as the coalition’s international lead. Dr. Greenburg’s mission for the march is “to promote religious tolerance, interfaith dialogue, and education about religions of the world as a pathway to world peace.”

That message may be more relevant today than ever before. 


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9th Annual Interfaith Solidarity March and forum Israel-Hamas War