Faiths find common ground at Habitat build

October 26, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Christians, Jews and Muslims unite

The common threads in Christianity, Islam and Judaism emerged as lunchtime conversation at a Habitat for Humanity jobsite in the Issaquah Highlands.

The builders, gathered around a table of halal sloppy Joes, had stopped for a midday respite in the middle of the annual Together We Build effort. The faith organization brings together Christians — both Catholics and Protestants — Jews and Muslims at Habitat for Humanity of East King County projects.

Darald Gesinger (left), a parishioner at St. Joseph Catholic Church and a member of Together We Build, helps other Habitat for Humanity volunteers build framing for a wall of a home in the Issaquah Highlands. By Greg Farrar

Together We Build focuses on shelter, but the program also aims to build bonds among disparate faith communities and foster dialogue.

“What I’ve learned is that we all believe in one almighty God, that we are all to serve humanity and that’s how we serve God,” Jawad Khaki, Ithna-asheri Muslim Association of the Northwest president, said last week.

The group hammered through the highlands jobsite in mid-October. Habitat for Humanity plans to house up to 10 families in the highlands homes.

Founders created the program in the tense days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The group has prospered in the years since the tragedy, despite national debates about the so-called ground zero mosque and threats to burn Qurans.

Issaquah resident June Allison, a Bellevue Christian Church parishioner, said Together We Build focuses on common ground rather than differences.

“We are all children of God and there are so many common threads among our beliefs and even, in some cases, our practices,” she said. “We can listen to each other’s clerics respectfully and learn from them.”

‘Demystifies’ other faiths

The centerpiece of each Together We Build project is a service to share the religious traditions of Christians, Jews and Muslims.

Dave Sanford, a longtime Together We Build participant and a parishioner at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Bellevue, said the combination of faiths is a testament to the strength of the organization.

“We’ll have the imams offering prayers in Arabic from a pulpit in a Jewish temple to a Christian congregation,” he said before the service.

The participants gathered at Temple B’nai Torah, a Reform synagogue in Bellevue, just after sundown Oct. 16, a Saturday and the Jewish Sabbath.

“It demystifies one another’s faith practices,” Allison said. “It allows us to listen in a safe environment to representatives of the different faiths.”

The service carried special significance for Ahmadiyya Muslim Community member Alam Ali, as Muslims unrolled prayer rugs inside the synagogue.

“One of the key highlights for me was saying one of my five daily prayers at a Jewish synagogue,” he said. “That was something that I will remember for the rest of my life.”

Participants said although many groups foster interfaith dialogue, founders envisioned Together We Build as something more.

St. Joseph Catholic Church in Issaquah has been part of the organization since Together We Build launched. Parishioner Angie Grimmer said the program offered Christians a chance to learn more about Islam and Judaism.

“The chance to come together with like-minded people — not necessarily Christians — it’s a neat way to connect with them,” she said.

‘See a potential friend’

Mary Martin, resource development director at the local Habitat affiliate, lauded Together We Build because the organization prompted Habitat “to move beyond its Christian umbrella to welcome other faiths.”

Besides the highlands project, Together We Build has constructed homes in Snoqualmie Ridge and Patterson Park in Redmond.

The interfaith service is a highlight of the annual build, and so is the daily ritual of lunch. Teams of cooks from the faith communities gather to ensure meals meet halal and kosher requirements.

“A large part of our building together and learning together involves sitting down to a meal together,” Allison said.

Lunchtime discussions range from religious discussions to chitchat about families and careers.

“We’re not here to convert each other,” Sanford said. “We agree that religion is a good thing to bring us together, but it’s not a great thing to shoot each other over.”

The program brings together participants to reach a shared goal — and help Christians, Jews and Muslims find common ground.

“Most importantly, we have to develop an ability to look into the eyes of a stranger and see a potential friend,” Khaki said.

The imam said the importance of interfaith relationships remains paramount.

“We have a pluralistic society, and a pluralistic society is not an accident of history,” he said. “A pluralistic society is a conscious effort by all in civil society to appreciate the differences — not just tolerate or accept — but really to appreciate the differences so that we make the community we live in even richer.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment at

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4 Responses to “Faiths find common ground at Habitat build”

  1. Nazir Haji on October 27th, 2010 9:48 pm

    Dear Warren,

    I am impressed that things are taking shape for the better. I am a Tanzanian and it is normal for us to meet Jews, Christains and Hindus and discuss common issues. The idea is to bridge the gaps that cause all the misunderstanings. We will borrow a leaf from you and perfect our inter communication.

    Regards, Salaams & Shalom,


  2. Help Habitat for Humanity build homes at Renton, Issaquah sites : The Issaquah Press – News, Sports, Classifieds in Issaquah, WA on March 1st, 2011 2:31 pm

    […] a popular destination. Habitat received a hand from Seattle Storm players and the interfaith group Together We Build in order to complete the residences. Other Stories of Interest: Habitat for Humanity of East King […]

  3. Ann Hasty on September 5th, 2011 4:01 pm

    I information for together we build in preparing the food for sept 8. 9, or 10th. which wil be held at the Christian church,

  4. Interfaith group formed after 9/11 plans to build Issaquah homes : The Issaquah Press – News, Sports, Classifieds and More in Issaquah, WA on September 11th, 2011 7:27 am

    […] We Build members came to Issaquah last October to build homes in the highlands. The ongoing project offers a chance to reflect on 9/11 and help the community at […]

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