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Marchers stress unity of human race

Monday, February 24, 2003

Nearly 600 people marched to Stetson Chapel in bitter but sunny weather on Sunday to pray, sing and hear impassioned pleas for peace.

Starting from either the downtown Federal Building or the Kalamazoo Islamic Center, believers from a range of faith traditions -- Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Baha'i's, Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists and Jews --came to the Kalamazoo College campus to protest a possible U.S. invasion of Iraq.

A mixture of religion and anti-Bush-administration politics brought them out.

"A lot of people are objecting to this proposed war scenario," Adnan Hassan, a Pharmacia scientist, said as he walked up the steps to the chapel.

"At this time many of us don't see that Iraq is such a serious threat."

Before entering the chapel, Western Michigan University freshman Sarah Husain added, "We are trying to show solidarity with the children of Iraq. They are the true victims."

Sunday afternoon's Interfaith Gathering for Peace was sponsored by the Interfaith Coalition for Peace and Kalamazoo Nonviolent Opponents to War, or KNOW.

Bells in the belfry of the chapel rang both before and after the service as a way of drawing attention to faith-based dimensions of the day.

"We are here for the sake of peace. We are peace lovers," said Amanda Brown, a member of the interfaith coalition. "Hopefully, by participating in marches such as this we can save lives and prevent bloodshed."

Drawn to the chapel were people of all ages, including high school and college students, mothers with babies, middle-aged men in sports coats and ties and senior citizens sporting peace buttons.

En route to the event, participants carried protest signs, banged buckets serving as drums, and waved to motorists who honked their horns in passing.

Walking at the rear of the group from the Federal Building were two retired teachers. They toted a large flag that showed the earth from space.

"I'm here because to me what the current administration is doing is most depressing," said Nancy Crowell, a retired preschool teacher.

"People need to realize they can do something -- even if it's only marching that we are able do," added her friend, Sandy Kristen, a retired elementary teacher.

Once inside Stetson, marchers filled the pews in the sanctuary, the choir loft and on the platform behind the pulpit.

The gathering began with a reading from the interfaith coalition's just-released statement for peace. Then there was music, including a rendition of John Lennon's peace anthem "Imagine," as well as readings and prayers from various faith traditions.

"In the name of God most gracious and merciful, by our collective presence here we are making a truly remarkable statement," Mushtaq Luqmani, a local Muslim leader, said in one of the prayers.

"We are all united in our purpose to prevent war in Iraq and elsewhere around the world," Luqmani said.

In his brief presentation, local Hindu leader Radha Vemuri talked about some people today "who use religion as an excuse to push through their agenda."

Hindu tradition, he said, strongly opposes going to war as a way to promote a narrow, self-serving view of the world.

"We are all part of one race -- the human race," he said. "We believe that tolerance is not a matter of policy, but an article of faith."

Stetson Chapel chaplain Gary Dorrien picked up on and expanded this theme in his presentation, titled "The War Against Iraq and the Permanent War."

Although his focus was political, it had a strong religious base. Dorrien, the Parfet Distinguished Professor at Kalamazoo College, spoke about the "world-subverting" pacifist teachings of Jesus Christ. He said that early Christianity "took for granted that a follower of Christ cannot be a soldier."

But that belief began to change after the Christian church became part of the Roman empire. Some time after that, certain Christian leaders developed a "repugnant" doctrine that proclaimed a "holy war against Islam."

Drawing applause from the audience in the chapel, Dorrien went on to liken the "holy war of the Crusaders" to current U.S. foreign policy.

"President Bush and his key advisers show little concern about the costs of the war and occupation, because to them, occupation is a necessary means to U.S. domination over the Middle East," he said.

In his talk, Ali Abunimah, a Muslim author from Chicago, said, "The planned war against Iraq is the fulfillment of an agenda of an extremely hawkish group of people. ... The (war) will finalize the transformation of this republic into an empire."

Rick Halpert, a local attorney, ended the service by reciting a Jewish prayer that says no one group "has a monopoly on holiness or on the truth."

"Have not we all one father," read Halpert, "and are we not all his children?"

Chris Meehan can be reached at 388-8412 or

©Copyright 2003, The Kalamazoo Gazette (MI, USA)

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