A poster advertising for the search of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau is pasted on a wall in Baga village on the outskirts of Maiduguri, in the north-eastern state of Borno May 13, 2013. REUTERS/Tim Cocks
The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) joined the Los Angeles interfaith community last week at Los Angelesâ€™ Wilshire Boulevard Temple to pray for the return of 300 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped this past April by Boko Haram. The well attended event was sponsored in the Temple by American Jewish World Service (AMJS) and included Muslim, Christian, and Jewish participation.
Prayers, songs, the spoken word, and speeches were all part of the eveningâ€™s moving presentation.
The event was at once a vigil, a prayer offering, a show of unity, and a call to action to end gender based violence and to encourage the United States Congress to pass the International Violence against Women Act (IVAWA). After the program petitions and postcards addressed to legislators were available for attendees to sign demanding this action. The event began with the blowing of the Shofar simultaneously with a performance on the Djembe. The former is a horn, usually a ramâ€™s horn, used in traditional Jewish services and of ancient origin. The latter is a large drum originally from West Africa. Often it is used to tell an emotional story and, because of its size, is usually heard above other instruments in an ensemble.
Rabbi Beau Shapiro of the Wilshire Boulevard Temple welcomed the audience. He spoke of the religious and civic diversity of Los Angles, second only nationwide to Brooklyn. â€œWe are here to show we are not indifferentâ€.
Edina Lekovic, Director of Policy and Programming at the Muslim Public Affairs Council, gave a moving address to the audience. She referenced her own current pregnancy and the fact that she knew she would give birth to a girl, making the plight of the Nigerian school girls all the more poignant to her and, by extension, her audience. She said that we want easy answers, answers that focus on one group. The very act of education is a threat to extremists.
â€œMy heart is broken over the Nigerian girlsâ€.
Ms Lekovic continued by saying that she read about the Taliban and how they throw the name of God around. The literacy rate for girls is 25% and for boys it is not much higher – 30%. Ms Lekovic reminded the audience that the first word of the Koran is â€œreadâ€.
â€œWe are here to push back against hatredâ€.
Ms Lekovic has been a speaker at hundreds of national and international conferences. She is Adjunct Professor at Bayan Claremont, a part of Claremont Lincoln University, where she teaches Religious and Spiritual Leadership in A Muslim Context.
Following Ms Lekovic, Marium Mohiuddin took the podium. Ms Mohiuddin was formerly affiliated with MPAC and is presently co Chair of the Abrahamic Faiths Peacemaking Initiatives (AFPI).
Boko Haram, she said, is distorting Islam. The Koran addresses and asserts the equality of men and women. Girls in Nigeria are warriors – they choose to go to school. Boko Haram, Ms Mohiuddin continued, is afraid of them. We are not dealing with a Muslim or Christian issue. We are dealing with a humanitarian issue.
Other speakers included Allison Lee, of AJWS. Ms Lee said that abuse of women goes on. We have not forgotten the schoolgirls in Nigeria – nor others whose names we do not know but whose suffering is real. She urged the passage of the IVAWA.
Craig Tulman of the Pico Union Project offered a prayer spoken against a musical background.
Rabbi Susan Goldberg said that she had just returned from a conference in London, a conference that dealt with violence against women. She asked for a prayer for healing in this temple.
Pastor Bright Meritighan of Rhema House said he was from Nigeria. What, he asked rhetorically, if one of his daughters had been kidnapped.
â€œThis madness does not come from religionâ€.
â€œWhat a beautiful event. I am sorry it is over.â€ said one young woman in the audience when the event concluded.
As the evening ended many who were in the audience continued to talk about the presentation as they congregated in the outer halls and immediately outside the temple. The presentation had a deep impact on the audience.
Sponsors of the event included, but are not limited to: the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC); University of Southern California (USC) Office of Religious Life; Rhema House; Pico Union Project; Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center; Abrahamic Faiths Peacemaking Initiative; the Association of Black Women Physicians, and Walker A. M. E. Church.