|Interfaith Peace Garden|
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Purpose and Vision
The purpose of the Interfaith Peace Garden, or “the garden” for short, is to serve mutual understanding and peaceful relations among members of diverse faiths and cultures by arousing curiosity and facilitating interaction. The garden is intended to function as a museum, a learning center, a library, an event venue, and a place of worship and reflection. The garden features three main buildings and many symbolic artifacts that represent primarily the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but also other major world faiths such as Buddhism and Hinduism. In its function as a museum the main buildings in the garden will feature artifacts that represent significant events, locations, and persons in the history each faith tradition.
In its function as a learning center, the garden will facilitate a diverse set of learning experiences such as narrated tours, seminars, panels, symposia, and viewing of documentaries. In its function as an event venue, the garden will facilitate group gatherings commemorating significant historic or contemporary occasions, concerts and other performances. Finally, the garden will also be available for those congregations who wish to conduct special worship services. The participating institutions envision the garden facilitating learning experiences and mutually enriching dialogue among members of diverse faiths and cultures including students, professionals, academicians, politicians, civil society leaders, clergy, and lay persons. We envision the garden representing our common hope for peaceful coexistence and mutually respectful relations among major world faiths and cultures. We envision media organizations disseminating the common message of peace on the occasion of this garden and other organizations picking up on this theme to contribute to peace. We envision the garden becoming one of the symbols of Houston, Texas.
The garden was motivated by the desire of the participating institutions to set an inspiring example, a monument for the spirit of peaceful coexistence of major world faiths. In an increasingly diversified and globalized world, interfaith relations remain fragile. The picture that emerges from continuous exposure of the negative events hardly shed light into the common traditional values and meaningfully shared life experiences of people of faith. The garden is intended to help develop a sense of appreciation for one’s own faith as well as one’s neighbors’. The garden brings forth particularities of each featured faith tradition and acknowledges differences that add to the richness of the spiritual belief and practice. Yet, the garden also bears witness that these differences do not have to lead to conflicts. The positive influences in each tradition can be cultivated to represent the best of each faith tradition and turn our world into a “garden” full of different but beautiful flowers.
The initial idea for the garden was proposed by the volunteers of the Institute of Interfaith Dialog (IID). IID is a non-profit educational organization that aims to create opportunities for direct interaction among members of world’s diverse faiths and cultures. Toward this goal IID organizes various types of activities ranging from grass roots to leaders in civil society and government. Example activities include interfaith panels addressing topics of common interest, cultural exchange trips, interfaith dinners, distinguished lectures, family and congregation visits, seminars, symposia, scholarships and sponsorship of college courses addressing interfaith topics. Various educational and interfaith organizations in greater Houston have contributed and continue to be part of the Interfaith Peace Garden project. These include the Center for Faith and Culture at the University of St Thomas, A.D. Bruce Religion Center at the University of Houston.
Funding and How You Can Contribute
The garden is funded entirely by donations of individuals and corporations. Every person, foundation or corporation who share the values and vision that inspired the project are encouraged to contribute. Please mark your donations as “ Interfaith Garden Project” and send them to the Institute of Interfaith Dialog. IID is a 501-c-3 non-profit organization and your donation may be tax exempt under IRS rules. Recognition of special contributions can be arranged. Please contact any of the oversight committee members or IID main office for details.
1. Synagogue (Great Synagogue in Edirne, Turkey with Entrance door of Solomon’s Temple, Jerusalem, Israel)
a) Great Synagogue of Edirne
Thousands of Jewish families who were exiled first out of Spain and then Poland were settled in the west and northwest regions of, then Ottoman state, especially in the cities Salonika (Greece) and Edirne (Turkey). The Great Synagogue is located in Edirne. The great synagogue was built in 1907. Before it was constructed, there had been a huge fire in the city which destroyed 13 synagogues. After the fire, instead of building 13 different synagogues, the Jewish community of Edirne decided to build a single big synagogue instead. This synagogue is the third biggest synagogue in Europe.
b) Solomon’s temple
It is also called Beith HaMiqdash, Solomon’s temple and Jerusalem Temple. It was built as a symbol of Jewish worship and Jewish identity during Solomon’s kingdom in Jerusalem (B.C 970-930). Only the Western Wall has remained from the second temple.
The land of the temple is considered to be sacred by the three Abrahamic Faiths. The Temple Mount, where the Solomon temple is built, is believed to be the location where Abraham’s binding of Isaac took place (Genesis 13 & 22). In Christian teaching Jesus preached and was raised to heaven in this area. Jerusalem Temple and the surrounding area are also mentioned in the Muslim holy book Qur’an as the place “whose surroundings we have blessed”. It is believed that Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) night ascension has a connection with this place (Quran 17:1, 7).
The synagogue that is planned to be built in Interfaith Peace Garden has been based on Edirne Grand Synagogue. The entrance door is designed similar to the Solomon Temple’s entrance door, which has been sketched according to the descriptions in the holly books.
c) Sard Synagogue, Manisa
Sardis is on the west side of Turkey and close to Aegean Sea. Sard was the capital of the Lydia where the money was invented and used for the first time for trading. It is believed that the Jewish Sardians came to the area in 3rd century B.C. from Babel. Sard ruins are also the biggest antic synagogue among all that has been discovered. The city is also among the Seven Churches mentioned in Psalm 7:11 along with Ephesus and Pergamum. It is assumed that there was a huge Christian and Jewish population in the city and envoy Yuhanna sent a letter to the area (Revelation 1:4, 11).
The city has historic importance for both Jewish and Christian people. Sardis illustrates very well how fast Anatolia accepted Christianity. In this city there is a group which is called as “Godfearers” This group is very peculiar to show the diversity during the first years of Christianity in that eventhough people in this group are not Jewish, they accepted Jewish ideas and customs.
The motives that will be used in Interfaith Piece Garden are from the ruins left from this synagogue.
Sard Synagogue, Manisa
2. Mosque ( Habib-i Neccar Mosque, Antakya – Kemerler Selimiye Mosque Bands, Edirne)
a) Habib-i Neccar Mosque, Antakya
The original Habib-I Neccar Mosque is located in the city of Antioch (Antakya), named after a martyred Christian. This incident is described in Qur’an. In this anecdote the place and the time of the incident is not stated. According to some of the interpretations of Qur’an, Jesus sent two of his envoys to Antioch, the biggest city of that time, and the first person to believe the envoys was a person with the nickname Habib-i Neccar, or the beloved of the carpenter. But his countryman didn’t like the envoys and imprisoned them. Then God supported them with a third messenger. Despite all the efforts of the envoys, no one believed in the new religion and people planned to kill the envoys. Hearing these, Habbib-i Neccar came to the city and said “"Obey those who ask no reward of you (for themselves)”. Habib-i Neccar, together with the envoys, were martyred by torture.
Some of the sources interpret his name as ‘the beloved one for Jesus’. Neccar means who gives shape to a tree; and carpenter is a name for Jesus. Habib-i Neccar means beloved one for Jesus.
This is also the place where the envoys of Jesus and companions of Prophet Mohammed met. When Muslims came to the region, they built a mosque by the grave of Habib-i Neccar. It has the symbolic meaning that it is the first mosque dedicated to the first Christian in Asia Minor. This mosque is also known to be the first mosque built in Anatolia. On the north east side of the mosque, four meters under the ground, there is a tomb which is believed to belong to Habib-i Naccar.
Habib-i Neccar Mosque
b) Selimiye Mosque
Selimiye Mosque was built in 1568-1574 in Edirne by Architect Sinan (Mimar Sinan). This mosque is a symbol of the great improvement of the Islamic architecture and Mimar Sinan stated that it was his masterpiece. One of the qualities that makes the mosque unique is the unity between the four tall minarets around it, domes standing on circular eight bands and four half domes surrounding them. Windows on three sides of the mosque provide great illumination in the mosque, which is an innovation in architecture. There is a courtyard in the middle of the mosque which has the same surface area as the mosque. The architectural designs used at the Interfaith Peace garden has been taken from the Mosque’s the inside courtyard entrance which is ornamented with porches and domes.
3. Church (St. Spyridon Church (Kizil Kilise) Aksaray; The entrance door is St. Antony Church door, Istanbul)
a) St. Spyridon Church (Kizil Kilise) Aksaray
St. Spyridon Church (also known as Kizil Kilise) is located in Cappadocia Region. Since it was built with red stones, it has been called as Kizil Church (Red Church) in the area. It is one of the best samples of churches built with stone in all Cappadocia. The church is believed to be built in sixth century and it is also believed that St. Gregorius visited this church and lived in the region. It is believed that fundamental teachings of Orthodox Christianity originated in this region. St. Spyridon Church has a mesmerizing beauty with its dome put on an octagon, its cross shape and glamorous concordance. The dome was put on four poles. The frescos show scenes from Bible.
b) St. Anthony of Padua Cathedral
The entrance to the church in the Interfaith Peace Garden is modeled after the entrance of St. Anthony of Padua Cathedral in Istanbul. The Cathedral is the biggest of all Roman Catholic churches in Istanbul. It was named as St. Antoine Church by people. The services in the Cathedral have been observed by mass audience. The first form of the Cathedral was built by Italians inhabiting in Istanbul. The cathedral was then destroyed and rebuilt with all the apartment buildings surrounding it in 1906-1912. Pope John XXIII, also known for his support in interfaith dialog during second Vatican Council during 1963- 65, before he was selected as pope, preached in this cathedral for ten years while he was an ambassador of Vatican.
c) The Church of the Virgin Mary (Meryem Ana Church, Ephesus, Izmir)
The Church of Virgin Mary, which is located in Ephesus, Izmir on the west side of Turkey, has great historical significance. First, it is attributed to Mary who gave birth to Jesus and second, the Third Ecumenical Council, the Ephesus Council, met there (431). The decision to name Mary as ‘ Theotokos’ ,one who can give birth to God, was taken during this council. However, archbishop of Istanbul stated that the name ‘Theotokos’ might appall people so it is better to name Mary as “Mother of Messiah”.
The church, which is mostly in ruins now, believed to be built on a Roman Temple’s ruins in the third century. There isn’t any information about the history of the church beyond the ninth century. However, it is believed that it was used by the Christians living in the area. During the diggings in 1950s, the mosaic of the church’s entrance door was found.
Catholic Church believes that ‘Theotokos’ Mary was arisen to heaven so they devote the day, August 15 to her. Today, Ephesus has been visited by Catholics who believe that it is a holy place and they have their ceremonies there.
The holy book of Islam praises Jesus and Mary too. Qur’an also states that they were chosen and were preferred over the worlds. In addition, there are two chapters named Mary (chapter 19) and Al-Imran (Family of Imran, Chapter 3) in the Quran that talk about the life of Mary, birth of Jesus, and his miracles. Today not only Christians but also millions of Muslims visit the Church of Mother Mary.
The building in Interfaith Peace Garden is inspired by the ruins of this church.
4. Abraham’s Pool, Urfa
Urfa is on the south-east of Turkey. Traditionally, it is believed that Abraham was thrown into fire by the King Nemrud in this region. As a miracle, fire, with the mercy of God, did not burn him. This part of the story is mentioned in the Qur’an (Qur'an 21:51-70) without mentioning the name of the place. People in the area believe that the fire he was thrown into turned into a lake and the woods in the fire turned into fish. The region is also important because of another center 40 miles away from it, Harran. Harran is believed to be the place where Prophet Abraham came and settled with his father and brothers (Genesis 11:27-32). He also got married there. In addition, his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob married to daughters of their relatives in Harran. In addition Muslims in the area believe that Abraham was born somewhere close to the lake. A cave, very close to the lake, is believed to be his birth place. A mosque, Mosque of God’s friend, was built for Abraham close to the lake. (God’s Friend is one of the attributes of Abraham)
5. Ottoman Fountain
Little fountains built with the charities to provide free drink to passersby can be either a single architectural structure or they can be put in buildings close to mosques. They symbolize charity and giving back to the society. Their architectural designs have changed over the centuries. They were usually built in circles, semi-circles and polygons. They were covered with domes whose bottoms were curved outwards. The German Fountain in Sultan Ahmed Square, which was built to commemorate the second anniversary of German Emperor Wilhelm II's visit to Istanbul in 1898. It was built in Germany, then transported piece by piece and assembled in its current site in 1900.
In Interfaith Peace garden, instead of taking one sebil as the sample, the architectural structure of the era will be taken into.
6. Alhambra Palace Poles, Spain
Alhambra was established in Granada city in Spain by Muslim in the midst of 14th century. Hamra means “red” and the complete name of the complex is “Red Castle”. There are palaces, mosque, and gardens in Alhambra. Muslims came to Spain in 711 and continued their existence in Europe until 1503. In the last emirate Granada, Jewish people, Christians and people from other faiths lived in harmony and peace. Some parts of the complex used by catholic administrators after Reconquista. Alhambra was neglected for years and started to diminish. In 19th century it was rediscovered by scientist and rovers; and then it was restored. Today Alhambra is one of the biggest tourist attractions of Spain and the most famous Islamic architectural building of the country. It has been the inspiration of several songs and stories; and also it was added to the World Heritage List of UNESCO. The poles used in Interfaith Peace Garden are similar to those used inside the Palace.
Alhambra Palace, Spain
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It was an historic day for Houstonians as they celebrated the groundbreaking of the Interfaith Peace Garden, a garden that is the first in its kind in North America.
Judicatory leaders, elected officials and over 200 distinguished guests gathered to pray for peace in our society and that the Interfaith Peace Garden will be an active learning center and a place of worship for all Houstonians. The groundbreaking ceremony was truly moving with prayers and remarks.
After a short introduction of the envisioned garden, Cardinal DiNardo was the first to offer his prayer.
Following him, Bishop Janice R. Huie, Bishop of Texas Conference of the UMC, Imam Mustafa Yigit, Imam of the Houston Blue Mosque, Rabbi Steven Morgen, Associate Rabbi of Congregation Beth Yeshurun, Bishop Andrew Doyle, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, Bishop Michael Rinehart, Bishop of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, ELCA, Dr. Lynn Mitchell, IID Board Member and also the Director of the Religious Studies Program at UH, Rev. Garry Schoonover, Past Moderator of the Presbytery of New Covenant, Rabbi Judith Abrams, Founder of the Talmud School Maqom, The Rev. John Ogletree, Senior Pastor of the First Metropolitan Church, offered their prayers.
After the prayers, distinguished guests made their remarks regarding the necessity of such a site and its benefits for all people. Council Member Anne Clutterbuck, Representative Joe Deshotel, Senator Rodney Ellis, Congressman Al Green, and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee made their remarks and they emphasized the importance of learning from one another and mutual understanding.
Judicatory leaders were the first to shovel dirt. Congressman Al Green, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Representative Deshotel, Senator Ellis, and Council Member Anne Clutterbuck shoveled dirt together.
Diversity and participation from all faiths and all walks of life made the event so meaningful and inclusive that was in line with the spirit of the Interfaith Peace Garden.