Rebecca Waugh doesn’t have cable anymore, but that hasn’t made her immune to the sounds coming from Donald Trump’s mouth.
She has heard the Republican presidential front-runner’s call to stop Muslims entering the country. She has heard his anti-immigrant rhetoric. And like others who turned out in Northwest Washington on Sunday for an interfaith walk titled “Faith Over Fear: Choosing Unity Over Extremism,” she has had enough.
“I wanted to do something visible to show solidarity against all the hostile rhetoric we’ve been hearing lately,” said Waugh, 65. “This is not who we are.”
Though billed as an interfaith event “supporting the Good of humanity,” the gathering in support of area Muslims was laced with political undertones, with the organizers acknowledging that Trump’s inflammatory comments following the terrorist attack in San Bernadino, Calif., had galvanized them to action.
“When you see the rhetoric of those seeking the highest office in the land and the dangers it causes innocent people, you have to act,” said Lyndon Bilal, a local imam, or Muslim spiritual leader, who participated in the event. “It’s important that we come together with other faiths who know us as people, who know who we really are.”
The walk, which drew about 200 people, started at Washington Hebrew Congregation, then proceeded along leaf-strewn sidewalks to Washington National Cathedral and then finally — and, thankfully, downhill — to the Islamic Center on Embassy Row. The walkers were led by clergy from a broad swath of religions, including Cardinal Donald Wuerl, head of the Archdiocese of Washington.
“I think it’s important for faith leaders to come together because we have faith and we need not give in to fear and we certainly don’t need to panic,” Wuerl said before the event. “In our hearts, we know God is with us and we are one.”
There were prayers and reflections at each stop.
At Washington Hebrew, the Muslim call to prayer was chanted in Arabic, and Wuerl read from Luke 23:24: “Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ ” Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde from the Episcopal Diocese of Washington told the audience, “Love is stronger than hate.”
As she walked to Washington National Cathedral, Waugh, who lives in the District, pondered what Trump would have said about the event.
“Something divisive and hostile, something to blame, something to divide, something completely irrational,” she said.
Washington Hebrew Congregation Rabbi M. Bruce Lustig, one of the event’s organizers, spoke at the cathedral. Without mentioning Trump by name, he said, “Not one of us should be registered because of our faith,” nor should the country put up with “fear-mongers.” No walls along borders, Lustig added. No obstacles to Syrian refugees.
With the cathedral towering over them, three Muslim children sang a traditional Islamic welcoming song in Arabic and English: “The full moon rose over us/From the valley of Wada’/And it is incumbent upon us to show gratitude. . . . You have brought to this city nobility/Welcome you who call us to a good way.”
And Rabbi David Saperstein, the U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom, read from Exodus 22:21: “You shall not wrong or oppress a stranger. For you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Muhammad Fraser-Rahim, a former counterterrorism analyst working on a PhD about violent extremism, stood watching with his two children, ages 9 and 7. The D.C. resident said he was gratified by the turnout, particularly the diversity of the crowd — young and old, male and female, white and not.
“We are all here as people of different faiths,” he said.
But he said his own faith, Islam, needed to better deal with those who twist religion for violent purposes.
“We have work to do,” Fraser-Rahim said. “But I’m hopeful.”
And then he was off to the final stop, the Islamic Center — down Massachusetts Avenue, past the vice president’s residence at the Naval Observatory, past embassies and the Kahlil Gibran memorial, with a few cars honking in support along the way. His children weren’t entirely pleased with the length of the stroll, but an ice cream reward was offered.
At the mosque, Fraser-Rahim and his children stood toward the back of the crowd, facing the majestic arches and serene courtyard. There were readings from the Koran. And the audience read responsively to other prayers.
“God of Forgiveness, help us to forgive,” they said. “Compassionate God, free us to love.”