By Claudia Motley and Rabia Gursoy
Reverend Aneela Arshed made her way up the stairs to a room full of people, who had gathered at Unity Church of Healing Light to stop religious discrimination on Long Island.
It was an afternoon of prayers at Unity Church of Healing Light, and chants from 15 different traditions joined together for the Voice of Faith for Peace event to encourage unification, as a rise in anti-Semitic incidents and Islamophobia worries all Long Islanders. The meeting was part of the ‘No Hate in Our State’ campaign started by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week.
“The whole idea is enough, enough hate,” Arshed, Interspiritual Minister, said. “It’s time we join hands and embrace humanity.”
The campaign includes a proposal in the 2021 Budget to combat hate, division, and anti-Semitism, and passes a first-in-the-nation domestic terrorism law, investing $25 million for religious nonprofit organizations that are vulnerable to hate crimes. The goal is to create an education curriculum on tolerance and diversity for students in New York. Another $2 million will be invested to support the State Police Hate Crimes Task Force, a police force dedicated to resolving hate crimes.
“This year, we are going to fight this rising tide of hate with bold legislative action to deter violence, protect our citizens and educate our people about the causes and terrible consequences of hate,” Governor Cuomo said during his speech last week in Albany.
Organizations such as the Gathering of Light are among those that aim to create an environment where individuals respect every belief as expressions of faith grow more diverse. In order to achieve the goal of combatting bigotry, anti-Semitism, and Islamaphobia, several people of different religions gathered to educate their children at the voices of faith for peace event. The Gathering of Light is part of an international movement of people who identify themselves as having a spiritual expression rather than being defined by a specific religion.
“It is an action of understanding and unity,” Gathering of Light volunteer, Aimee Jones, said.
The event hosted participants from various religions, with about half the room full of kids. The kids had the stage to themselves and performed chants or prayers. The church became a place where everyone witnessed others in their prayers and called for peace.
“I wanted to join today because I wanted everyone to see that we care about other people’s religions,” 13-year-old was the room full of children, or teenagers? Both? student volunteer Hansa Girdap said. “I am Muslim and I want to show people that we are not terrorists.”
Teachers were among the audience and were smiling throughout the kids’ performances.
“It’s wonderful when you get to see kids take it seriously,” 60-year-old Prayasi Bagchi said. “We teach them about holidays and how each one is connected, and through this they get to learn about each other.”
Participants came from varying regions across Long Island.
“There’s a lot of diversity and unity here that I hadn’t seen in other churches,” retired nurse Margaret Fraser said. “The Voices Of Faith For Peace event teaches you that there is no difference in people. We are all one.”