Leaning On Faith In War Time

The Early Show, Three spirutal leaders - Rabbi Craig Scheff, Al Haaj Ghazi Khankan and the Rev. Calvin Butts
CBS/The Early Show
Since the start of the war, houses of worship across the country have added special hours and services to meet the needs of thier congregants,

On The Early Show Sunday, co-anchor Russ Mitchell asked three spiritual leaders about the role of religion in war time.

The Rev. Calvin Butts, a Baptist minister, says the main concern of his parishioners is fear. "Following Sept. 11 and attacking Iraq makes them think there will be more terrorist attacks in America," he says of his church in New York City where many parishioners worked at the World Trade Center, a site that is now dubbed Ground Zero.

"And secondly, many of our parishioners have relatives who are soldiers and therefore they are praying for their safe return," he adds.

At Rabbi Craig Scheff's synagogue, fear is not just for terrorist attacks at home but for the safety of Israel. "There is that added element about ties that we have with Jewish communities around the world, added element that people are coming to me these days," he says. Scheff is rabbi at Orangetown(N.Y.) Jewish Center.

For the Muslim community, the main concern is backlash in America, says Al - Haaj Ghazi Khankan, director of Interfaith at The Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury, N.Y., and the executive director of CAIR Islamic Center of Long Island (Council on American Islamic Relations).

"The community in these difficult days are doing their prayers as usual, but adding supplication for peace, justice, and tranquility all over the world and specifically in our community because we are coming under attack at home by some bigots who associate Muslims, unfortunately, with answer of violence," he says.

Khankan notes, "There were six shootings immediately after Sept. 11. Five Muslims died, one Sikh. Telephone, bomb threats, people were beaten by neighbors, by friends, by colleagues. One little kid lost his eye in a school because friends beat him up because they are Muslims. And so we find this hopefully it would not be repeated now."

So Khankan stresses the importance of dialogue and encourages his community to keep the doors open to neighbors.

"We pray to God almighty that there will be more dialogue between people of religion. We are having open houses and we invite interfaith dialogue. We have put out, through the Council Of American Islamic Relations, a safety kit for the community, which was sent to all the mosques so they can be careful."

Rev. Butts, tells his parishioners that "God is found in many houses and called by many names. But we truly believe that there is but one God. And so the Muslims approach God in a way that's different from Christians but that doesn't make their approach illegitimate or wrong. If I meet my colleagues on the street and we do not tell who we are, we should be able to get along just fine."

He stresses the importance of exercising that spirit through meditation, prayer and Bible reading. He believes this will help parishioners deal with challenges now and in the future.

"I say to the congregation that they have to really develop the spiritual person. And just as we exercise in the gym and we go out, at least we should try to get our bodies together, same thing we should do to our spirit.

" I direct them to Scripture. We are like the disciples, laboring during the storm. The storm is raging and you have to be able to find inner peace in order to sustain yourself. Now is the time when people really need to be led into prayer. They need to be led into meditation and inspirational reading that comes from another place or the Holy Book. They will strengthen our lives and get us through the troubling times," he says.

Rabbi Scheff says by attending religious services, people can find safety in an unsafe world.

"I'm not sure we can quantify it as a requirement to attend religious services but certainly what we can offer people at this time is a home where their fears and their concerns can be validated, where they can find a community of people who are sharing the same anxieties that other people are feeling in these days," he says.

Rabbi Scheff also underscores the importance of community building. "The opportunity to be part of a community as a place where we can be inspired to action" is an advantage of active membership, he says. "And while we study, while we pray, while we try to find the words and the peace within, ultimately it is inspiring us to action to help other people to understand that we all have a place in making the world a better place."