Groups Gather, Still Praying for Peace

Groups Gather, Still Praying for Peace

While the U.S. moves ever close to war with Iraq, a group of local peace activists meet to consider.

Afeefa Syeed needed only three reasons to oppose a war against Iraq. Their names are Zaki, Yusuf and Hamza.

Afeefa, Zaki, Yusuf and Hamza Syeed were four of about 200 people who came to the All Dulles Area Muslim Society's (ADAMS) mosque on Sugarland Road in Sterling Sunday night to attend an interfaith anti-war rally.

Sunday's event was the latest in a series of interfaith vigils and "teach-ins" in the Herndon-Reston-Sterling area organized by the Greater Reston Interfaith Peace Coalition.

After attending vigils at two Christian churches in Reston last month, Syeed, a practicing Muslim, helped welcome a broad swath of pro-peace activists into her religious home, the ADAMS Center on Sunday night.

"I come here for my children," the Sterling resident said. "My kids have extended family in Iraq and they are very concerned about a possible war. They know that a 'smart bomb' isn't always smart enough."

UNLIKE PREVIOUS EVENTS, Sunday night's teach-in was noticeably more political. "We are here to inform the community as widely as possible," said Mukit Hossain, an ADAMS member and one of interfaith group's organizers, explaining the change in tone.

Calling the Bush administration "hell-bent on war," while insisting that "weapons inspections work," Erik Gustafson, a Gulf War veteran, spoke to the packed auditorium about his opposition to the pending war that he said should be called "Operation Just Us" instead of Operation Justice.

Gustafson is the executive director of the nonprofit group, Education for Peace in Iraq Center, or EPIC. After returning to Iraq on a humanitarian mission in 1997, he became a vocal opponent of the broad-based economic sanctions against Iraq. He applauded the work of the interfaith coalition and said the audience was part of a growing movement against the war.

"If you want to support the troops," Gustafson said, "then we cannot commit ourselves to an unjust war."

Gustafson said he believed the war on terrorism was "fundamental" to the security of this country, but he could not make the same argument for a war with Iraq. Instead, a war with Iraq would undermine the ongoing war on terror, he said. Gustafson warned the crowd that the United States was risking its national security and its economic livelihood if it went to war. He doubted the administration's estimate that the war could cost $100 billion, insisting that it could cost as much as $1.9 trillion.

Hossain said it was important to hear from people like Gustafson. "We need to know the whole story not just what they see in the mainstream media. We need to be reminded about what this war could really mean and what is truly at stake," Hossain said. "But, at the same time, it is important that we keep this movement grounded and anchored in the faith communities. I believe that we are the most effective and committed partners for peace."

In order to keep the movement alive, Hossain said that he and other organizers are actively working to expand their interfaith tent. "We are talking with the local Sikhs, Buddhists and Catholics in order to round up more faith communities," he said.

WHILE POLITICS were on the minds of many at the Sterling mosque on Sunday, many of those in attendance still had very personal reasons for their opposition to war. Renee Fulton of Reston was one of them. Like Syeed, Fulton, has been a regular at the area's pro-peace vigils. And like her Muslim compatriot, Fulton, a member of the Unity Church in Fairfax, worries about the implications a U.S.-led war against Iraq might have on her 15-year-old child. "I don't want my son's generation tormented by Iraq like my generation has been touched by Vietnam," she said. "And I worry about the children of Iraq. Our government calls it collateral damage, but that damage can be a beautiful 2-year-old child."

Syeed and Fulton both praised the interfaith aspect of the vigils. "It is very important," Fulton said.

Fulton said she learned the real importance of bridging religious barriers after the events of Sept. 11, 2001. "I had never been in a mosque before 9/11," she said. "Now I have been in one a few times and it is beautiful to see so many religions come together here tonight."

It shows, Syeed said, that religious people of all faiths share a common bond. "I think it makes a very important statement," Syeed said. "It is good for my children to be in an atmosphere like this tonight with so many people who are working for peace, not war. It is important for them to know that they are not alone."

Not knowing whether their voices are being heard can be a little frustrating at times, Syeed said. "Sometimes it does feel like we are just talking to the choir," Syeed said, of the interfaith gatherings she has attended. "But then you really get a shot of energy from being around such a large and diverse group of like-minded people."

AFTER EACH pro-peace session, Syeed said she has felt energized to go out into the community to talk with people who have different opinions on the prospect of a war with Iraq.

Syeed said she brought her children, ages 13, 8 and 6, with her, to prove that it is possible to be both patriotic and pro-peace. Syeed said she is worried about the long-term implications a war might have on her children. "They were born here and we aren't going anywhere," she said, "but, I fear that a war will hurt them in their perception of their country, the United States."

Like Syeed, Fulton feels strongly about the lingering effects a war with Iraq will have with the U.S. "As a country, we are the world's leader and superpower and we should be approaching the rest of the world with a high conscience rather than brute force," Fulton said. "We should not be like a big bully. We should serve as a guide to true democracy."