A Show of Faith For Iraqi Refugees

While thousands of raucous antiwar demonstrators marched through the streets of downtown Washington, a different kind of peace effort by a small group of Christians and Muslims was taking place in the parking lot of an aging brick church in Fairfax City.

Instead of carrying placards and shouting slogans, the interfaith activists were loading 325 boxes of soap, shampoo, toothpaste, towels and other humanitarian aid into a 20-foot truck behind Northern Virginia Mennonite Church. The packages will be collected, along with others from across the country, by the Mennonite Central Committee in Akron, Pa., and then flown to Iraq to relieve refugees, organizers said.

The project was as much a statement against the war as the protests, principal coordinator Hoyt Maulden said.

“We’ve gone to the big demonstrations in D.C. . . . but it was very unsatisfying because the way we are against the war is not the same as the way the protesters around us were against the war,” said Maulden, a member of the Mennonite church. “A lot of the war protests downtown sometimes got vindictive and got out of hand, and that made us very uncomfortable. We are looking for a positive way to express ourselves.”

From beginning to end, the effort brought pacifist Christian denominations and Muslims together, Maulden said.

Half of the aid kits were prepared by several hundred Muslim students from Al Fatih Academy, an Islamic elementary school in Herndon, and the All Dulles Area Muslim Society. The rest were donated by area Mennonite, Quaker and Church of the Brethren congregations. A similar collaboration took place across the country, organizers said.

The interfaith cooperation doesn’t end when the packages reach the Middle East. The Mennonite Central Committee and Islamic relief agencies will work together to make sure that the packages get into the hands of refugees, Maulden said.

During a break from loading boxes yesterday, Loyce Borgmann of Oakton Church of the Brethren explained why the faiths joined together: “Our basic God beliefs may not be the same, but our sense of justice and what’s right— that’s what connects us.”

Borgmann, whose husband heads the Oakton church, said pacifism is a founding principal of all three Christian faiths involved in the relief effort. “Our personal position as a church is all war is sin and all war is wrong.”

Suhaib Albarzinji, whose wife was a principal organizer of the project among the Muslim children, said his stance against the war was due to more personal reasons. He was born in Baghdad and has relatives living there. He doesn’t know if they are dead or alive.

“Everyone would love to see Saddam [Hussein] go and are glad to see him go, but we’ve progressed enough as a civilization to solve these problems without killing and destruction and dropping bombs on people,” he said.

His wife, Afeefa Syeed, director of Al Fatih Academy, which has about 55 students in pre-kindergarten through third grade, said she joined with the pacifist Christian groups because many of her students asked if they could do something for the refugees.

“A lot of the kids have friends and family in Iraq and relatives in Turkey and Afghanistan. This really hits hard with a lot of the kids,” she said. “We can’t not talk about it at school — the kids were already bringing it up. So we took the kids’ lead.”

Each relief kit contains four bars of soap, a bottle of shampoo, 10 cups of laundry detergent, a tube of toothpaste, four toothbrushes, four bath towels, a hairbrush, comb and nail clippers.

The Muslim children designed handmade cards that will be sent with the packages.

One of them, with a paper heart glued to its front and signed by an Al Fatih student, read: “We are praying for you. Allah is with you so don’t be scared. The war will be over soon. . . . love, your Muslim sister Sidrah Alam.”

Copyright © 2003 Washingtonpost.Newseek Interactive and The Washington Post. All rights reserved.

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