With religious strife rampant all over the world, one Contra Costa city made a vow Sunday that whatever pits community against community elsewhere, it must not and will not happen here.

A “March Against Hate” from Antioch City Hall to Antioch High School by Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Baha’is, Zoroastrians and other believers was a denunciation of the torching of a mosque in Antioch last month. It also was a call to look past differences of doctrine to focus on ethics that are common to most of the world’s religions.

It was not a simple call for tolerance, organizers said.

“It’s moving beyond tolerance to active respect — to stand together as a community,” said Father Tom Bonacci of St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Antioch. He also sits on the board of the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County, which organized the event Sunday.

The Aug. 12 arson fire that destroyed the mosque of the Islamic Center of the East Bay on 18th Street was the latest in a string of attacks. Three times this year, the mosque was broken into and vandalized. Islamic Center officials said they have not decided whether to rebuild at the site or look for another property in Antioch.

Although police have not found evidence that the arson was a hate crime, they are working with FBI hate crime investigators. No one has been arrested.

The fire, Bonacci said, was an opportunity for the interfaith community and a diverse county “to meet itself.”

“We can go to the best of ourselves, to the best of our faith and meet one another with forgiveness, love and respect, and to work for the poor and the needy,” Bonacci said.

The event Sunday began with a rally in front of City Hall that featured Muslim, Jewish and Christian prayers and words from state Sen. Tom Torlakson; state Assemblymember Mark DeSaulnier; Antioch Mayor Donald Freitas, Councilman Reggie Moore and Police Chief Jim Hyde; Pittsburg Mayor Ben Johnson; and other dignitaries.

Dr. Amer Ariam of the Interfaith Council’s executive committee chanted the Muslim call to prayer, facing northeast toward Mecca, Islam’s holiest city. Many of the hundreds of marchers wore hijabs, yarmulkes, clerical garb and other identifying marks of their religions and cultures, as organizers had requested. (MORE)


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