Citizen Staff Writer
More than 250 people from several religions gathered together Sunday for the Muslim-Jewish PeaceWalk.
“We are all praying and honoring the divine source,” said 48-year-old Bonnie Kneller, who is Jewish, embracing her Muslim friend Ismat Shafigullah, 64, who wore a white sari. “We create that connection across borders.”
The walk united not only Muslims and Jews, but also people of other religions.
“Every year is unique,” said Richard Wahl, 55, who is Jewish. “People are talking to others for the first time and learning new things.”
This year’s program began at 1 p.m. at the Islamic Center of Tucson with the recitation of an Islamic prayer, followed by a Jewish prayer for unity. An American Indian prayer and ritual and a welcome from state Sen. Paula Aboud, D-Tucson, followed.
The roughly three-mile walk ended at Ner Tamid at Water of Life Campus, 3269 N. Mountain Ave., just north of Fort Lowell Road.
The PeaceWalk, a nonprofit organization, was begun in April 2002 by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb and Abdul Rauf Campos Marquetti, both of Albuquerque, N.M. It was a response to the aftermath of Sept. 11.
University of Arizona foreign exchange students Komang Subagia, 24, and Mohammad Syifa, 23, both from Indonesia, come from different religious backgrounds. Subagia is Hindu; Syifa is Muslim.
“All of the religions have different ways to worship God,” Subagia said, “but religion is like a small river and it has a big ocean as one place to worship.”
Subagia first heard about the walk from his American host family, which is Jewish. He said he looks forward to interacting with the participants and plans to keep in touch with those he meets.
Subagia said he first learned first about pluralism in Indonesia, where Christianity, Islam, Catholicism, Buddhism and Hinduism are practiced.
There is no similar event in Indonesia, but Syifa said he hopes to share the lessons he learned from the walk when he returns home.
“I would tell my people in Indonesia to program something like this,” Subagia said. “It’s a good recommendation for my country. There are a lot of differences.”
For Tucsonan Joseph Bongiovanni, 35, his first time at the walk and as a Universal Peace Federation member are just steps in his personal journey.
As a follower, Bongiovanni said, he would like to do peace work in Israel and help bring together people of different beliefs for discussion and ceremonies.
“It’s the Holy Land and where there’s so much trouble, and they need help,” he said.
The day ended with activities at Ner Tamid, including arts and crafts for children and a vegetarian dinner.
Without having joined in the walk over the years, Kneller said, she probably would not have met Shafigullah.
“If we start here (in Tucson), maybe we can expand it. That’s the hope,” Shafigullah said.
To get involved in next year’s PeaceWalk, call Dina Afek, one of the event co-founders, at 404-1988.