There is something striking happening in Omaha Nebraska that is unlike anything the world has ever seen. The Tri-Faith Initiative is a mission that has been over ten years in the making, and it has finally begun to take shape in West Omaha. In today’s diverse cultural and religious world, there is often a lot of ignorance and even fear that is perpetuated throughout the media. The Tri-faith initiative seeks to foster respectful and educational dialogue between the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.
The Tri-Faith mission began as nothing more than a desire to promote positive relations between the three religious groups. One of the people that has contributed to this program extensively is Rabbi Aryeh Azriel. As the senior pastor at Temple Israel, Rabbi Azriel has played a pivotal role in the Tri-Faith initiative. The first time the project was ever truly thought of was when Temple Israel made the decision to build a new worship center in western Omaha. “As the Temple board considered moving west, they wondered if they could find good neighbors like the ones they enjoyed on Cass St. Rabbi Aryeh Azriel knew of a progressive Muslim group considering building a new mosque and educational center in west Omaha and suggested that a delegation from Temple Israel meet with them”(The Tri-Faith Initiative). The Tri-Faith project was born in this simple search for good neighbors. From here the two groups began searching for a Christian church to join the community. Although the Catholic Archdiocese declined the Tri-Faith’s invitation, the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska have stepped in to become the Christian representatives within the Tri-faith community.
Although this project has been in the making for over ten years now in the Omaha community, it has just begun to take shape in a real way. The Jewish portion of the community, Temple Israel, was completed roughly a year ago, and construction for the Islamic mosque will soon be underway in 2015. Although the temple is the only building currently standing in the Tri-Faith community, it is already easy to envision how this unique community will function once all the structures are completed. The design plans for the community include not only the three separate houses of worship, but also a community center in the shape of Abraham’s tent, to serve as a physical symbol for the connection that the three faiths share through the figure of Abraham. Another symbolic design feature of the community is a creek that runs through the properties which was previously named Hell Creek. Although each house of worship will essentially be separated from one another by Hell Creek, the community plans to build several walking bridges over the creek to show a literal building of bridges between the three faiths. Many of those involved in the community have begun talking about, “building Heaven’s Bridge over Hell Creek” (The Tri-Faith Initiative). Though no Christian church has officially released a decision on joining the community yet, Countryside Community Church has long been in contact with the Tri-Faith initiative and has stated that they “will release an official decision in April of 2015” (Azriel).
A community with a mission as progressive as the Tri-Faith has found a home in the middle of the United States in a town that is only on the map for the College World Series. The fact that Omaha Nebraska was able to sustain the needed community support for a mission like this says something important about the nature of the city. When asked how he felt about the Tri-Faith Initiative happening here in Omaha, Gary Groff, who teaches an Into to World Religions course at both Central High School and the University of Nebraska Omaha, stated, “It is a very unique community to be seen in the world, especially to be here in Omaha. I believe the fact that it is happening here reflects the religious diversity in Omaha well” (Groff). When asked the same question Rabbi Azriel responded with praise for Omaha’s Midwestern hospitality, “The city appears to be very receptive to the community. In other places like New York and Tennessee, similar ideas have been met with such harsh opposition that they were abandoned. The Midwest has been a very hospitable and receptive community” (Azriel). Even though the community is far from finished, the Tri-Faith initiative has begun to take shape both physically and spiritually. Temple Israel has already been host to several inner faith events, including a welcome picnic over the summer and a dinner event just a few weeks ago. Rabbi Azriel stated during an interview that, “It will be an amazing thing to have the project completed and to have the community integrated”.
Although Omaha has been far more receptive than other areas of the United States, some opposition has begun to emerge from various sources around the Omaha metro area. Many claims have been made that the tri-faith initiative has ties to Muslim brotherhood organizations. Joe Herring wrote a piece for the Daily Caller, outlining the Tri-Faiths’ supposed involvement in the brotherhood, “One thing is clear however, the mosque – and those behind it – have distinct ties to groups previously named as “unindicted co-conspirators” in the largest terrorist funding investigation in our nation’s history” (Herring ¶5). However, Herring brought his credibility into the light for questioning by something he stated within his own article, “The Tri-Faith Initiative features links to both groups on their website, under the “Resources” and “Recommended Reading” tabs.” (Herring ¶8). Here he offers his readers a direct link to both the “Resources” and “Recommended Reading” tabs. But when one uses the links he provided, there is none of the evidence that Herring claimed was there. One prominent figure within the Islamic portion of the initiative, Dr. Mohiuddin stated that there is “’absolutely, categorically, no political, religious or financial connection’” (Kelly ¶ 21) to any such groups. Dr. Mohiuddin is not only a prominent figure within the Islamic community, but is also the Administrative chair in the Internal Medicine Department at Creighton University. Thus, even though the credibility of many of the individuals raising these accusations is often found to be far less than that of the people they are accusing, they still damage the public’s view of the Tri-Faith. Beyond the individual voices that have arisen, in the past few months a serious opposition campaign began under the Global Faith initiative. As these unfounded claims get more media attention, the Tri-Faith continues to deny any ties to the originations. Those involved in the Tri-Faith community hope that people will not let the unwarranted media hype keep them from coming out to truly experience and learn what the initiative is about.
The Tri-Faith Initiative is not just symbolically about creating bridges between the three Abrahamic faiths with their community in western Omaha. The overarching theme of the project is respect. Even though the three groups are in this community together, they each have their own house of worship, and are in control of regulating their religious practices. “Members of the three Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam are committed to promote mutual respect and uphold the right to proclaim one’s own religion and serve God in his/her own way” (The Tri-Faith Initiative). Rabbi Azriel stated that one of the great things about healthy dialogue between other religious groups is that, “when you are secure in who you are, you feel free to learn about yourself through others” (Azriel). This shows the true heart of the Tri-Faith community. Respectful conversations between people of different faiths can foster personal as well as spiritual growth. The tri-faith community seeks to foster that growth for all people. It calls them to act, learn and gather in collaboration, connectedness and community.
The Tri-Faith Initiative began as a simple search for friendly neighbors, and has turned into one of the most unique religious situations in the world. The mission of the Tri-Faith community is to foster an environment of mutual respect and healthy dialogue between the three Abrahamic faiths: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Temple Israel is currently the only structure standing within the community, but the other houses of worship will soon be joining the temple to complete the community. Those who are involved in the Tri-Faith are excited to see how the project is coming together, and look forward to the day when the community is completed. Though Omaha has been positively receptive to the Tri-Faith’s mission, some opposition has begun to spread rumors about the initiative having ties to questionable organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood. The Tri-Faith community has denied any and all connections to said originations and hopes that people will not let the misinformation stop them from experiencing the true message of the community. The Tri-Faith Initiative is a truly unique community founded on the mutual respect for other religions. Though the main goal of the community is not to change the world, perhaps what will come from this progressive project, will have a far reaching impact in the Omaha community and beyond.