Source: ArabAmericanNews by Rick Meyer
OMAHA, NE — The similarities between the three Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are well known to those who study each religion, but many people practicing these faiths are not quite as aware.
A new project that its creators call the first development of its kind in the world hopes to shed light on those similarities with the building of the new Tri-Faith Project, a large privately-funded development in Omaha on a former country club and golf course that spans 35 acres and will comprise three sites: Temple Israel, the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska (including a church) and the American Institute of Islamic Studies and Culture (which includes a mosque), as well as the large central Tri-Faith Center connecting the three religious centers for common events and meetings.
The main building will use a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) structure and will house an auditorium and briefing room for conferences, lectures, symposiums and film screenings, coffee shops and gathering spaces, kitchen and dining facilities, space for traveling exhibits and more. Included on the site will be educational and social facilities to be used by all of the religious groups sharing the campus.
The founders of the Tri-Faith Project have been searching five years for the spot and are excited to bring the project to life; it will be a nearly $50 million project altogether for the four buildings.
The memorandum of understanding was signed in 2006 between the three groups to create the facilities while fundraising has continued. The hope is that the facility will open in the fall of 2013, although work on individual buildings could continue for another year or two.
“Our vision is to build bridges of respect, acceptance and trust, to challenge stereotypes, to learn from each other and to counter the influence of fear and misunderstanding,” the project posted on its website as its mission statement.
Spokesman Vic Gutman said the cooperation between the three faith groups has been extraordinary.
“It’s unique to the world where the representatives of the three Abrahamic faiths have intentionally built places of worship next to each other in one neighborhood,” he said.
“Our hope is that this experience will not only help the members of the congregations learn from each other but that people throughout the world will learn from our experience as well.”
The idea first came together when members of the temple decided to build a new building and the planners thought it would be a good idea to choose their neighbors, especially for sharing parking during holidays, which includes large crowds.
From there, the idea of collaboration grew and the idea came about through dialogue with the other organizations. Officials from the temple reached out to their counterparts at the Islamic center, which they had a longstanding relationship with already. The Episcopalian group soon joined and the project was officially born. Currently, the Jewish community has the most members in the area, but all three faiths will stand together as partners in the landmark project.
John Lehr, president of Temple Israel spoke about the initiative.
“How serendipitous it is that on the very ground where Omaha’s Jews once congregated at the only Country Club that would have us, we are now poised to congregate again, but this time, in a peaceful and beautiful multi-faith neighborhood, linked together by bridges of dialogue and mutual understanding.”
Dr. Syed M. Mohiuddin, president of the Islamic center, is also excited about the project.
“In a time when the world is engaged in building walls, this is a celebration of building bridges,” he said. “As the Holy Qur’an reminds us of the common bond among us: ‘We believe in what has been revealed to us and what has been revealed to you (Jews and Christians). Our God and your God is one and the same: and it is to him we submit.”
Tim Anderson, Canon for Episcopal Tri-Faith Ministries, is also looking forward to the completion of the project.
“In our baptismal covenant in the Episcopal Church we make the following promises: to seek and serve Christ in all persons; to love our neighbors as ourselves; to strive for justice and peace among all people; and to respect the dignity of every human being. We will now have a unique opportunity to live out those promises with our new Jewish and Muslim neighbors.”