Interfaith event backs Mideast democracy

Imam Mohamed Melhem of the Central Mosque of Charleston (bottom center) was among about 100 people attending an interfaith meeting Monday night. The gathering was prompted by protests in the Middle East.

Answering a call for solidarity, local faith leaders and about 100 Charleston-area residents assembled Monday night at the Jewish Community Center to show support for the democracy movement in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East.

The gathering, "Crisis in the Middle East: An Interfaith Call for Solidarity, Hope and Peace," was sponsored by the Central Mosque of Charleston and Charleston Jewish Federation's Jewish Community Relations Committee and included greetings from mosque, Jewish Federation and city leaders.

Imam Mohamed Melhem noted that Muslims have been worshipping at the Central Mosque for five years now and are an important part of the Charleston community. He said that Muslims, Jews and Christians have much more in common than not. All pray to the same God, all fast and give charity to the needy, all are called upon to love their neighbor.

"We should focus on what's in common," he said. "We should stand together against evil anywhere in the world."

Other speakers included the Rev. Robert Leeper, chaplain of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, and Ari Sytner, rabbi of Brith Sholom Beth Israel synagogue.

Leeper said the current crisis in Egypt "is not good, but good is coming out of it. For example, we're here together."

The keynote speaker was Ronnie Porat, former consul at the Israeli embassy in Cairo and current Israeli emissary to the Southeast for the Jewish National Fund. He offered a survey of Israeli-Egyptian relations since the 1940s, answered questions from the audience and struck a chord of fellowship that resonated clearly through the interfaith gathering.