For 23 years, Thanksgiving in Austin has come with huge crowds of people in saris, hijabs, clerical robes and yarmulkes, celebrating their similarities. Sunday’s 23rd annual Austin Area Interreligious Ministries Interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration marked the first time the service was hosted by Muslims — and it was at a Jewish temple, no less.

But the service wasn’t without some controversy. Last week, Hyde Park Baptist Church, on whose property the event was originally going to be held, backed out because it objected to non-Christians — particularly Muslims — worshipping at its Quarries location.

Congregation Beth Israel stepped up, and the standing-room-only service was held there.

“On Wednesday morning, we got the call from one of our congregants who works at Austin Area Interreligious Ministries’ building about the issue,” said Jennifer Smith, executive director at Beth Israel. “We made some calls and realized we had plenty of room for everyone.”

Smith said that although the temple served as the location for the service, it was Central Texas Muslimaat that ran the show Sunday. Austin’s Muslim community lacks a space big enough to hold the worshippers. Simone Talma Flowers, Austin Interreligious Ministries’ interim director, said Muslims have always been involved with the service but were most heavily engaged this year.

“There are a lot of stereotypes about how far apart Muslims and Jews are, and I don’t think it’s true,” Smith said. “This shows that Muslims and Jews can work together.”

The event featured a Jewish shofar — a trumpet typically made of a ram’s horn — a Muslim song calling for prayer and Christian bell music. Religious leaders from several faiths and denominations, including Methodists, Bahais and Buddhists, took part. At sundown, the Maghrib, the fourth of five daily Muslim prayers, was also held there.

“This is a very good concept,” said Ahsan Chowdhury, a Muslim who worships at the North Austin mosque. “This country is a country of immigrants. We should be breaking our boundaries of religion, culture and heritage as part of this great American holiday.” (MORE)


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