US Elections 2008
Talking politics and faith
Democrats' interfaith meeting aims to break Republican control of religious debate.
Last Modified: 25 Aug 2008 23:50 GMT

Sunday's event had the markings of a religious ceremony, but an unconventional one

The Democratic party's first interfaith meeting at its annual convention was certainly not short of drama.
Before a speaker had even reached the stage three anti-abortion protesters were ejected from the event after they began hectoring the crowd for their "anti-Christianity" and over Obama's perceived weak stance on the emotive issue.
The incident showed how politics and faith have become such intertwined – and explosive - issues in US politics, but it was the relations between religions themselves, most notably Christianity, Judaism and Islam, that pre-occupied the minds of most attendees of Sunday's gathering.
To the sounds of a rousing gospel choir, Reverend Leah Daughtry, chief executive of the Democratic National Convention and pastor of the House of the Lord Church in Washington DC, noted to thundering applause that "we didn't need to bring faith to the Democratic party, the faith was already here".
The Democratic party is keen to wrest control of the religious debate away from the Republicans, and the interfaith meeting was its latest effort as the battle for religious voters picks up speed ahead of the US presidential elections in November.
Daughtry herself told the Los Angeles Times newspaper last week that the event was aimed at closing the so-called "god gap" in US politics, and in addition to the interfaith gathering the Denver convention will also for the first time hold a People of Faith "caucus".

Unconventional ceremony

Certainly Sunday's event had all the markings of a religious ceremony, albeit a rather unconventional one, with readings and joint prayers held by imams, pastors and rabbis, Quranic and Biblical stories read and people attending in smart attire more suitable for church or the synagogue than the downtown convention centre.

Fatema said there were signs the US was moving towards religious unity

Fatema Biviji, a business owner, elected representative for the town of Irving in the southern state of Texas and practising Muslim, told Al Jazeera she felt the meeting was "extremely important" for the future of the Democratic party.
"In the past we've seen the Republican party embrace conservatism but we were shunned for not engaging with all faiths that are a very big part of our social life in this country," she said.
"Today we saw signs that we can embrace each other and move this country forward."
The traditional "Democratic" themes were strongly reinforced throughout the meeting, with its emphasis on social justice, ending the war in Iraq, aiding those affected by the ailing US economy and providing quality healthcare for all.
The issue has not been without controversy, with some critics castigating the party – and its presidential nominee, Barack Obama - for courting the religious vote at the expense of the United States' long cherished constitutional right of the separation between church and state.
However, it was a message that would have largely fallen on deaf ears among the thousand-strong crowd, which roared its approval as Bishop Charles Blake of the Church of God of Christ in West Angeles, said it was crucial to use faith to support Democratic values, and to emphasise that "the Democratic party pursues more of the positions relevant to the lives of our people and the people of the world".

'People of the book'

Ayah, left, said US Muslims were joining politics in order to be heard
All those attending spoke of how strongly interwoven the three faiths of the "people of the book" – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – were, and how all three must work to overcome much of the ignorance surrounding Islam in particular, in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US.
Dr Ingrid Mattson, director of the MacDonald Centre for the study of Islam and Christian-Muslim relations in the US state of Connecticut, told the crowd it "saddened" her that "so much out there is being done because of my religion", but took pains to stress both the work of the US Muslim community with local officials to combat extremism and the support she had from leaders of other faiths.
"There have been problems, but I am glad to say I am in a country that values my faith," she said to loud applause.
Afterwards, a group of young Muslim women attending the event said that the gathering had made a small step towards providing a voice for their faith and others in the political realm as the elections loom closer.
"I don't think Muslims joining a particular party makes any difference, but we want to have a voice," Ayah Safi, a Denver resident, told Al Jazeera.
"It's hard to say [what will happen], but we can only hope that Obama can reach out [to all faiths]."

Al Jazeera
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