A little more than two years after 9/11, I went to a meeting of folks looking to promote Muslim-Jewish reconciliation. The December night was cold, icy, and wet, and the mosque where we met, which had been a tire factory, still looked like one, complete with a rubble-strewn parking lot.
I suppose there were about six or eight of us there, not really sure where to go or what we were going to do; a lot was made up as we went along. It was as grassroots a movement as you will ever find.
But we did it. On the first Sunday of May 2004, there we were, walking out of Al-Aqsa mosque and down Fourth Street, toward the center of town. There were maybe 250 to 300 people in all. And the walk was born.
As the years passed, we invited people from more faith traditions to share their customs and prayers with us. Our stops in the various houses of worship necessarily got longer, but that was not a bad thing. Connecting with each other, in houses of worship as well as on the walk, is what we're about.
A lyric gift
I guess the first of anything is often the most memorable and moving. I'll never forget walking up to the first stop on the first walk, St. Augustine's on Fourth Street near Vine, where the parishioners waved and cheered us on. Even more, I remember the actual vibrations I felt in my body when the imam of Al-Aqsa chanted Quran verses from the altar of the Catholic church.
Later, a Muslim woman explained to me that the Quran is a lyric gift from God, meant to be sung. That day, and all the walk days since, have felt like such a gift.
Our route went through Center City the first couple of years. Then we did two years in Northwest Philadelphia, two in West Philadelphia, and two in the Overbrook section. On Sunday, we'll be back in Center City.
Today, Al-Aqsa is a jewel of Northern Liberties. It has a new parking lot and, thanks to the work of the group ArtWell and neighborhood people of various faiths, it's a bright, shiny, inviting edifice. The interior is just as improved. We hold monthly meetings there, and the imam always stops in to say hello. His chanting from the Quran at some house of worship has become a tradition that we never dream of leaving out of the walk.
The walk really came from the ashes of 9/11. A rabbi and an imam from Albuquerque, N.M., had held one and passed the idea on to one of our founding members during a peace-promoting trip to the Holy Land. Our "stewards of the Earth" theme this year is fitting, considering how very "grassy" our roots are — having grown from six or eight to about 600 last year. May the God of each of our understandings be with us, and may we all be picking up some good vibrations as we walk and pray together.
Jim McGovern can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The walk begins at 2 p.m. Sunday at Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel, at 18th and Spruce Streets. A pre-walk celebration and prayer will take place at Al-Aqsa Islamic Society, on Germantown Avenue and Jefferson Street. For more information, see www.interfaithpeacewalk.org.