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Viewpoint: Omaha site for three Abrahamic faith centers on a campus

August 6th, 2017 Posted in Opinion Tags: , , , ,

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It’s not often that I visit a mosque. It’s more unusual to visit Omaha’s newest mosque and be directed to park in a synagogue’s parking lot. That’s where a shuttle picked me up and drove me on a road that passed over, I’m not joking, Hell’s Creek on its way to the mosque’s open house.

Those are just a couple of ironies about the Tri-Faith Initiative in Omaha. The 35-acre site, a former golf course, holds Temple Israel, which was completed first; the mosque, whose title is the American Muslim Institute; and a soon to be built Christian church affiliated with the United Church of Christ. Later, a community building will be added.

Here’s another irony: The seed for the Tri-Faith Initiative was planted on 9/11. In the midst of that day of horror, a local rabbi organized a group of his congregants to visit area mosques to offer protection against misdirected anger. From this act of kindness was born a desire to bring all three Abrahamic faiths together on one campus.

I visited on a blistering Midwestern Sunday. The mosque’s parking lot was full and a man pointed folks toward the synagogue. Buses ran continually.

Estimates were that well over 1,500 of my neighbors showed up, out of curiosity, perhaps, but also out of support and solidarity. The Tri-Faith Initiative has been applauded in Omaha, and donations have made it a reality.

There are naysayers, but they seem to be drowned out by the enthusiasm of Nebraskans who are proud of this unique effort. According to an article in the Omaha World-Herald, the mosque president said he knows of no other such effort in the world.

I had visited a mosque before. One of Omaha’s mosques has suffered vandalism, so many of us have visited their monthly open houses to show support.

To go into the new mosque’s main prayer area, everyone respectfully took off their shoes and huge piles stacked up. Downstairs, a social hall held tables laden with Middle Eastern delicacies and boxes of American supermarket cookies.

Some interesting points: The mosque will not sound the Islamic call to prayer five times daily, out of consideration for surrounding neighborhoods. It will attempt to serve all sects of Islam. An “ablutions area” provides a spot for purification, the washing of feet, face and hands, with hand dryers at hand and foot level.

I was especially intrigued that this mosque houses the only designated space in Omaha for body washing of the dead in the traditional way. Muslims bury their dead within 24 hours; bodies will be washed and prepared here, then shrouded for burial without embalming.

Omaha’s Muslim community is growing rapidly. In 2016, Nebraska accepted more refugees per capita than any other state, and many of them were from Muslim nations.  

The Tri-Faith Initiative brings hope to our nation. It’s a public witness to peace, and as I passed back over Hell’s Creek, named long ago, I thought a little bit of heaven was planted here.

Caldarola writes for Catholic News Service.

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