Interreligious Activity in San Diego Since September 11 (2002)

Following the events of September 11, the atmosphere in San Diego was particularly tense. Three of the hijackers involved in the attacks were from the San Diego area, and San Diego has a strong military presence that includes the North Island Naval Air Station, Fort Rosencranz Military Reservation, Imperial Beach Naval Air Station, U.S. Naval Communication Center, and US Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. Immediately following the events, Rev. Freeman, a minister in Chula Vista, organized an interfaith prayer service for that weekend. The next week during a regularly scheduled meeting of the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant's Rights, members discussed the possible impact of September 11 on immigration reform. Following this meeting, Rosemary Johnston contacted Imam Sharif Patikhi to organize educational panels about Islam. Prior to September 11, the Interfaith Shelter Network consisted solely of Christian and Jewish congregations; there were no Muslim mosques or organizations participating in the network.

Working with a diverse coalition of faith and community-based organizations, Johnston held a series of town meetings throughout San Diego County called "Meet Your Muslim Neighbors." Altogether they held nine town meetings, though the last two meetings were sparsely attended because of waning interest. The meetings involved a 45-minute Power Point presentation explaining the basic beliefs of Islam, the five pillars, the role of women, the rules of warfare, and misconceptions about the religion. They shared the statistic that according to the American Muslim Coalition of San Diego, San Diego County has approximately 14 mosques and 80,000-100,000 Muslims. Two imams took turns presenting in these meetings: Imam Sharif Battikhi, director of the American Islamic Service Center, and Imam Muhammad El-Mezain, a Muslim scholar and director of "Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development," the San Diego office of the largest U.S. Muslim charity. Both men emphasized the need for educating others about Islam to allay fear and suspicion towards the Muslim community. As El-Mezain related, "The main enemy for society, besides the terrorists, is ignorance, and the best way to combat that is education." (San Diego New Notes, May 2002)

This coalition continues to meet monthly, and their next priority is to involve youth in inter-religious dialogue so that they might respect each other's beliefs and end cycles of religious violence. On June 13, 2002, the Interreligious Council of San Diego, in partnership with the National Conference for Community and Justice, made a program proposal to implement NCCJ Tulsa's "Teen Trialogue Series," which brings together thousands of Christian, Islamic, and Jewish students to eat together, to visit their respective houses of worship/meeting, and to discuss topics of concern from the perspective of their faith traditions. Their proposal reads:

"NCCJ San Diego is proposing to implement such a program here in response to needs emerging from events of September 11 in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. This program would address a long-term interest and involvement of the NCCJ with regard to the youth programs component of our work. It also meets what leaders in the faith community recognize as the need to create an environment of understanding among youth of different faith traditions in a pluralist society so that they can grow up to better cooperate in the civic life of their community. Also, its impact on reducing tensions and potential hostility in individual lives cannot be overstated."

While the Interreligious Council and NCCJ made this proposal in June, the California Council of Churches proposed a study guide for congregations entitled "Building Bridges of Understanding: An Interfaith Response to September 11" on August 1, 2002. The study guide offers a curriculum to provide a basic understanding of the history, traditions, beliefs, and practices of six major religious traditions. They also address ways in which congregations can mutually respect and build community across religious differences.

These interreligious efforts have involved mainly Christians, Jews, and Muslims, though Buddhist and Hindus also organized events following September 11. Hsi Fang Buddhist temple held a memorial service for the victims on the night of Tuesday September 11, an English service on Thursday September 13, and an all-day prayer vigil on Sunday September 16. On September 29, 2001, Hsi Fang temple hosted the first annual San Diego Buddhist Community Day, which brought together more than 20 different San Diego Buddhist organizations including Deer Park Monastery, Buddhist Temple of San Diego, Zen Center of San Diego, etc. Venerable Man Guei, one of the abbesses of Hsi Fang temple, shared her hope for further understanding and cooperation among Buddhist communities in San Diego, and she concluded with a prayer for the victims of September 11 and their relatives.

Preparing for the commemoration of September 11 this past year, Rosemary Johnson met with a representative from the Mayor's office to discuss the possibility of having an interfaith prayer service. Mayor Dick Murphy instead declared the day "Patriots Day," and in his press conference he stated that the day should be an opportunity for "reflection and recognition of the heroes that have emerged from this horrific day." He asked residents to fly American flags, and he held a public ceremony at Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park that included public officials, firefighters, police, as well as military and religious leaders. Maintaining the need for Christians, Jews, and Muslims to join together in reflection, Johnston designed a separate meditative environment for the event, so that people could sit in silence. She offered poster boards for people to write messages alongside a photograph of the beams of light. At night, the American Muslim coalition of San Diego organized a prayer vigil to remember the victims and their families as part of the nation-wide Day of Unity and Prayer coordinated by the American Muslim Political Coordination Council (AMPCC) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Resources for interreligious activity in the San Diego area are included below. Since the Teen Trialogue series and Building Bridges curriculum proposals just recently emerged this past summer, it remains to be seen how these and other interreligious efforts develop in San Diego.

— Beverley Foulks, Pluralism Project Student Affiliate


Religion in the News

San Diego Union-Tribune P.O. Box 120191 San Diego, CA 92112-0191 Tel: (619) 299-3131 or (800) 244-6397

San Diego Union-Tribune is a news and information service focused on the San Diego region. Sandi Dolbee is the Religion and Ethics editor for the newspaper, and she can be reached at (619) 299-3131, extension 2082.

San Diego News Notes P.O. Box 84507, San Diego, CA 92138-4507 Tel:(619) 699-8494 Fax:(619) 881-2401

San Diego News Notes includes stories, articles, and news of interest to Catholics. It is published monthly by Concerned Citizens for Life.

Inter-religious Organizations in San Diego

1. Interfaith Shelter Network 1880 Third Avenue San Diego, CA 92101 Phone (619) 702-5399 Fax (619) 238-1526

Founded fifteen years ago, the Interfaith Shelter Network is a collaborative of religious, social service, and government organizations to help the homeless in San Diego. The Network has two programs: the Rotational Shelter Program and the El Nido Transitional Living Program. The network consists in over 120 San Diego County congregations and 3,500+ volunteers, who have sheltered 5,700 people for 118,000 nights for the past fifteen years.

2. Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights 965 Mission Street Suite 514 San Francisco, CA 94103 Phone (415) 227-0388 Fax (415) 543-0442 E-mail:

Rosemary Johnston, Coordinator for San Diego County (Interfaith Shelter Network)

In response to growing anti-immigrant sentiment in California, members of immigrant and religious communities founded the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights (ICIR) in the spring of 1994. Since the passage of Proposition 187, ICIR has developed into a network of over a thousand congregations, denominations, organizations, and leaders throughout the state.

3. Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice 3727 Camino del Rio So, Suite 100 San Diego, CA 92108 Phone (619) 584-5740 Fax (619) 584-5748 Rabbi Laurie Coskey, Director (; (619) 584-5744, x. 22)

National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice 1020 W. Bryn Mawr Ave, 4th Fl. Chicago, IL 60660 Phone (773) 728-8400 Fax (773) 728-8409

The National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice is a network of religious people who seek to educate, organize and mobilize the religious community in the United States on issues and campaigns that will improve wages, benefits and working conditions for workers, especially low-wage workers. In their mission statement, they share their commitment to protect worker rights, build relationships between the religious and labor communities, support poultry workers, support nursing home and childcare workers, develop resources on worker justice issues for congregations (, counsel religious employers about the rights of workers, and organize local interfaith committees to educate and involve the religious community on worker justice issues.

4. Inter-religious Council Father Bruce Orsborn, President Phone (619) 423-0405

This council began following anti-Muslim sentiment from the Gulf War; it seeks to bring different religious groups together to challenge religious discrimination. Governed by a rotating board of constituent members who meet monthly, it includes Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, and Muslims. It aims at educating, understanding, and encouraging cooperation between different religious traditions.

5. Ecumenical Council 1880 Third Avenue San Diego, CA 92101

P.O. Box 3628 San Diego, CA 92163-1628

Phone (619) 238-0649 Fax (619) 238-1526 

The Ecumenical Council has representatives on the Interreligious Council, and it also serves as an umbrella organization for the Interfaith Shelter Network. A coalition of more than 100 Christian churches, its mission is to encourage and empower San Diego county religious congregations and organizations to provide shelter, food, and other support for those in need. It was established in 1970 by Christian churches who wanted to join together in action on social issues.

6. National Conference for Community and Justice, San Diego 4443 30th St. Suite 200 San Diego, CA 92116 Phone (619) 521-2906 Fax (619) 521-1742 

The National Conference for Community and Justice, founded in 1927 as The National Conference of Christians and Jews, is a human relations organization dedicated to fighting bias, bigotry and racism in America. NCCJ promotes understanding and respect among all races, religions and cultures through advocacy, conflict resolution and education. The San Diego NCCJ was founded in 1962. In 1993, San Diego held its first "Anytown" youth program in the mountains east of San Diego, and that program has become an annual opportunity for high school students to explores issues of bias, bigotry and racism. In 1995, they began the "Minitown" youth program that offers community building experiences for four days at various high schools. Since 1988 NCCJ has hosted an annual "Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. All People's Breakfast" in January for approximately 1,500 people to focus on his work and the current challenges of creating an inclusive America. One of the major contributions of NCCJ in San Diego was the 1997 publication of Bridging Our Faiths, in conjunction with the Interreligious Council of San Diego. This text explains basic tenets and answers questions about religions from Buddhism to Judaism.