As the deadline for hostage Tom Fox's execution approached in Iraq, Muslims and Quakers gathered at a Sterling mosque yesterday afternoon to pray together for his safe return and that of three other Western peace activists kidnapped in Baghdad two weeks ago.
A group calling itself the Swords of Righteousness Brigade has declared that the four hostages will die today if the United States and Britain do not release Iraqi prisoners.
Out in the corridor of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center, it was impossible to distinguish Muslim from Christian among the shoes stacked on the shelves. Inside the main hall, the same was true among the 50 or so worshipers who gathered at the center in eastern Loudoun County to send what they said was a message of peace and unity around the globe.
Organizers translated a message from Fox's blog, waitinginthelight.blogspot.com, into Arabic and sent it to al-Jazeera television, which they hoped would broadcast it in the Middle East. They also invited representatives of other Arab media to the vigil. Organizers included members of the ADAMS Center and the Langley Hill Friends Meeting in McLean, where Fox is a member.
"We are trying to send a signal of goodwill and community," said Mukit Hossain, a member of the ADAMS Center's board of trustees. "Hopefully, the captors would think that by releasing these people, they would not only do a good thing, but they would also be seen favorably by a lot of people."
One after another, men and women, Quakers and Muslims approached the mihrab, or prayer stand, at the front of the hall.
Imam Sheikh Rashid Lamptey, the center's deputy imam, said: "Our friend Tom Fox said too many are willing to die for war, and too few have been willing to die for peace. In our history, people have said these words many times. Very few have lived these words."
The ADAMS Center and the Langley Hill Friends Meeting have a history dating to September 2001, when the terrorist attacks prompted vandals to deface the center. Members of the Langley Hill congregation have subsequently held 24-hour prayer services at the center on the anniversaries of the attacks to help protect the mosque.
Hossain said he hopes the mosque's partnership with Quakers will show area residents that many Muslims believe in peace and show Iraqis that Christians do, too. That's an especially important message for the captors, he said, who have accused the hostages of being spies. Also, some Iraqis have grown suspicious of proselytizing Christians, Hossain said, and it is important for them to know that Fox went to Iraq strictly to promote peace.
"Peace is the way to do things, and not confrontation and violence," said Paul Slattery, a member of Langley Hill and a friend of Fox's. "There are better long-term ways of resolving differences."
Fox, 54, lived in Northern Virginia for more than 30 years. He was kidnapped Nov. 26 along with peace activists from Britain, New Zealand and Canada.
Fox, a member of the U.S. Marine Band for 20 years, first went to Iraq in September 2004 as a worker for Christian Peacemaker Teams, based in Toronto and Chicago.
Slattery and others said they believe it is important to pray even if their message is not heard by Fox's captors today.
"If their objective is indeed good, hopefully they will" release the hostages, Hossain said. "If their objective is evil, the result is a foregone conclusion. There's not much anyone can do about it."
Afeefa Syeed, 35, director of the Al Fatih Academy in Herndon, said the prayer vigil "sends a very clear message to Muslims and non-Muslims alike that we will form alliances for justice. We have to depend on one another for support."