Jews, Christians, Muslims join in L.A. group's pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Organizers take pains to keep politics out.
Mahmoud Abdel-Baset was scared.
As director of religious affairs for the Islamic Center of Southern
California in Los Angeles, he and his interfaith partners had condemned the
Taliban's destruction of precious Buddhist statues in Afghanistan.
He had participated in prayer vigils after the Los Angeles riots and the
Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
He had helped lead countless discussions about the intersection of Judaism,
Christianity and Islam.
But last year, when his partners at the Wilshire Center Interfaith Council
proposed a joint pilgrimage to Israel, Abdel-Baset gulped. How, he
wondered, could he sell this trip to the Muslim community at the height of
conflict between Israelis and Palestinians? Could they separate raging
political emotions from religious belief?
"With so much bloodshed and suicide bombings, it was the least opportune
time to talk to my community about this," Abdel-Baset recalled. "I didn't
know how to break it to my board."
But he did. And some members of his mosque agreed to take the trip. In the
euphoria of that achievement, Abdel-Baset's early fears vanished.
On Thursday, after months of delicate preparation, he and 45 other Muslims,
Christians and Jews left Los Angeles for an 11-day visit to Israel and
Jordan in what they say is one of the first pilgrimages from Southern
California to the Holy Land that includes all three Abrahamic faiths