9/11 Inspired the InterFaith Leadership Council:
Founders Reminisce about the Early Days
 
      
     Long before the 9/11 attacks, there were connections between members of the clergy and lay leaders of many of metro Detroit’s religions. However, that terrible day catalyzed a new awareness of the need for greater understanding and friendship. Some of the individuals involved in the InterFaith Leadership Council’s early days share their memories below:
·        Victor Begg, a business owner active in interfaith work since the 1980s.
·        Bob Bruttell, also a businessman, was involved with the National Conference for Community and Justice, NCCJ (formerly called the Detroit Roundtable for Christians and Jews and later renamed the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, MRDI).
·        Dan Buttry, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dearborn, was already connected with several local imams.
·        Gail Katz taught English as a Second Language in Berkley where she had started a Diversity Club so students could learn about each other’s religions.
·        Brenda Rosenberg was a fashion executive at Marshall Field’s (predecessor to Macy’s), who felt a strong calling to get involved in the interfaith community after 9/11.
·        Steve Spreitzer was the interfaith coordinator for NCCJ (now MRDI).   
         The World Trade Center attacks were foreboding for local Muslims. There was a lot of fear that unstable individuals might randomly attack Muslims, as did happen. On September 11 and the following day, groups of clergy and lay leaders quickly contacted each other to plan a religious service. Buttry remembers a meeting on September 12 with three Muslims, including Victor Begg, and three Christians. Begg says that Brenda Rosenberg and Sharona Shapiro, then executive director of the American Jewish Committee in Michigan, came to his house to plan an interfaith service. Katz remembers attending the interfaith service held at Fort Street Presbyterian Church on the Sunday after 9/11.
         Begg, who describes himself as an “accidental activist,” felt that a more significant response was needed. “We’re going to need more than prayer,” he said at the time and invited five leaders to get together for further discussions on his boat.
         Soon a group of Muslims and Christians began meeting at a local Ramada Inn. Jewish community representatives later joined the discussions. “We were trying to see how we could do deeper work. We had a lot of heavy discussions,” says Buttry. “We talked about the need to go a lot deeper if we were going to have an impact. What would it take to take interfaith relationships to the next level?”
         The group organized as Interfaith Partners, a component of what was then the National Conference on Community and Justice. “We were a group of people of different faiths who wanted to know each other,” says Bruttell. (See photo of the Interfaith Partners from 2002.)
         They sought funding which enabled them to hire their first part-time staff member—Rev. Sharon Buttry. Soon Interfaith Partners became involved when the Islamic Organization of North America (IONA) Mosque faced opposition when it planned to locate in Warren; the mosque’s Imam Steve Mustapha Elturk joined Interfaith Partners.
         As some turban-wearing Sikhs and Muslims were being insulted and attacked, Bruttell saw a need to inform people about different faiths. When local mosques were defaced, he suggested that individuals hold hands and create a sacred ring around these holy places of worship to show that they should be protected and respected by the community.
         As Katz was teaching 7th graders about world religions that year, she asked “Why don’t we take them to a Hindu temple or mosque?” She began organizing Religious Diversity Journeys, an immersive interfaith educational program that the InterFaith Leadership Council eventually expanded to reach thousands of students in tri-county Detroit.
         Buttry remembers that women of different faiths were meeting and several women-- Shahina Begg, Gail Katz, Trish Harris and Peggy Kalis--founded Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in Metropolitan Detroit (WISDOM), which continues to be active today.
         After Rosenberg had a dream about a goddess bringing Christians, Jews and Muslims together, she was inspired to start Reuniting the Children of Abraham with Imam Abdullah El Amin. This was a musical play developed by local Christian, Jewish and Muslim teenagers that explored ways to overcome prejudice and achieve understanding among those of different religions. The program was supported by the Michigan Humanities Council and featured in a CBS television documentary.
         Interfaith Partners presented educational programs about metro Detroit’s different faiths and provided conciliation and support during instances of interfaith conflict. These included a successful mediation of a situation in Hamtramck when some residents were vehemently opposed to a local mosque’s public call to prayer.
         In April of 2011 a minister announced that he would burn a Qu’ran and the Interfaith Partners – now newly incorporated as the InterFaith Leadership Council - responded with a large interfaith gathering in solidarity with Muslims at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn. That tremendous demonstration of interfaith solidarity gained international coverage. Over the years other interfaith organizations developed in Troy, Plymouth-Canton, Farmington and Dearborn as well as MOSES and DION.
         The Interfaith Partners became a separate nonprofit organization—the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit—in 2009 in order to increase its impact. “The interfaith movement had grown and needed to have their own voice. They needed to seek more resources for educational programming and wanted to have a greater impact on the community,” explains Bruttell.
         All of these efforts over several decades have resulted in a more positive interfaith climate today, according to several of these leaders. “We have strong relationships so when a crisis arises, we can mobilize pretty quickly. We have relationships, networks and connections that didn’t exist before,” says Buttry. “It’s important to stand in your own faith but connect,” Rosenberg explains.
         However, international events sometimes strain relationships here. Spreitzer cites the “Muslim-Jewish fault line” and conflicts between Muslims and Hindus in India that create tensions here locally. “As tensions grow there, it comes here. The pain is great. We need the other. We need each other,” says Spreitzer. “America needs a community that is closely knit,” says Begg.
         Bringing people together in friendship (Connection), mediating in conflicts (Conciliation) and teaching understanding (Communication and Education) – the mission of the IFLC – is as necessary today as on September 11, 2001.
        
InterFaith Leadership Council Is Featured in Television News Segment about the Post 9/11 Era
 
         Local television station WXYZ recently aired a segment about interfaith relations after 9/11, which included references to Religious Diversity Journeys and other InterFaith Leadership Council achievements. The segment can be viewed at
 
https://www.wxyz.com/news/interfaith-leadership-council-teaches-power-of-diversity

Holocaust Memorial Center Will Present Virtual Program about a Sarajevo Child’s Wartime Experiences
 
        Zlata Filipovic grew up during the long siege of her native Sarajevo and will share her wartime experience in a virtual program entitled “Stolen Voices” on Sunday, October 3 at 3 p.m. The InterFaith Leadership Council is a community partner for this program presented by the Holocaust Memorial Center. For more information, visit:
 
https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/4916287804516/WN_0U_VufFVRvWxY37mOs3ZrA

         
InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit | P.O. Box 252271, West Bloomfield, MI 48325
Phone: [313.338.9777] Email contact: [email protected]