Though nearly 700 miles from the controversy over a proposed Islamic community center and mosque near ground zero, the topic that has grabbed national headlines in recent weeks was very much on the minds of 300 people breaking fast together at the Islamic Community Center of Des Plaines Tuesday.
The 10th annual interfaith iftar - or fast breaking meal Muslims eat at sundown during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan - drew faith leaders from the three Abrahamic traditions, including Francis Cardinal George of the Chicago Archdiocese, who addressed the importance of unity and the future of religion in troubled times.
Though Cardinal George would not directly address the New York City mosque controversy, he said the antidote to violence in the name of religion is friendship.
"For friendship diminishes all the many different causes for violence and therefore diminishes the possibility that violence may break out anywhere in the world," Cardinal George said.
Such interfaith gatherings are perhaps more important today than ever before because of the lingering effects of Sept. 11, 2001, said Ghulam Farooqie, president of the Des Plaines Islamic Community Center.
Leaders spoke of the need for faith communities to pull together to support one another against attempts to diminish the individual and collective value of their religions.
"Ideological secularism ... that's the opponent of all of us in this room," said the Rev. Robert Barron, professor of theology at Mundelein Seminary. "When push comes to shove, what we're all about in this room is God. We are very much under attack by explicit forms of atheism. We are, whether we like it or not, all connected together."
Azam Nizamuddin, co-chair of the interfaith committee of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, said the Cordoba House or Park 51 Islamic center debate is one that pits constitutionality against peoples' emotions.
"To me it shows a decrease of virtue and civility, what we call in Islam as a lack of adab," he said. "We are witnessing a steady decline of morality, virtue and neighborliness."
Despite the gravity of the speeches, the event was largely about breaking bread together and Muslims showing their hospitality to their neighbors.
"I've been to other (interfaith) gatherings and I have always felt extraordinarily welcomed," said Mary Grover, a member of St. Gertrude's Catholic Church in Chicago.