With hammers pounding and a power saw buzzing, people from diverse faiths are building a house on a hillside in Tacoma.

As volunteers sweat on hot spring days, they’re also forging relationships to overcome barriers during the first interfaith build in the 24-year history of Tacoma/Pierce County Habitat for Humanity.

Muslims, Christians and Jews are working side by side during weekends over four months to build the two-story house for a Catholic family.

After nailing down laminate shingles on a recent Saturday, Ali Banani climbed down from the roof for the volunteers’ lunch of Indian food.

“The more we work together, the more we get to know each other,” said Banani, 58, a Muslim who lives in Federal Way. And once people know each other, he said, then they can talk about their faiths and beliefs.

Ali was one of about 15 workers building bonds this day, one nail at a time.

Nillofur Jasani said the interfaith build, called “Under One Roof,” dispels stereotypes. And it’s a way to understand the differences and similarities the faiths have.

“We all worship one God,” said Jasani, with house sponsor One Nation: Liberty and Justice for All. “We have different ways of practicing our faiths.”

One Nation, a Gig Harbor group promoting pluralism and awareness of Muslims, is paying $65,000 for building materials. Founded by local businessman George Russell, the group hopes the project will result in better understanding of Muslims, said Jasani, a Muslim and program manager for One Nation.

“When people get to know each other, they understand each other,” she said.

Building a house – not religious diversity – was foremost on Laurie Lasky’s mind as she cut plywood with a table saw for window frames on May 30.

“We’re here for the common good,” said Lasky, 49, who is Jewish and a member of Tacoma’s Temple Beth El. “There’s one God.”

There are key differences between the three Abrahamic faiths. Jews don’t accept Jesus as the messiah. Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet but not the divine son of God.

Christians believe Jesus is the divine son of God.

There are different groups within each faith as well. Some of those building were Shia Ismaili Muslims. Others were Sunni Muslims.

Whether Sunni or Shia, Muslims have sought to dispel negative stereotypes surrounding Islam since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The biggest falsehood is that Islam teaches violence, Jasani said. “Islam is a religion of peace,” she said.

Henry Izumizaki, a Buddhist who works as chief executive officer of One Nation, said the group hopes to sponsor similar interfaith builds with Habitat for Humanity across the country. They hope to spread their work with a green component; the house under construction will be the local Habitat affiliate’s first with solar panels.

The religious bridge-building for the project involves more than hammers and nails. Muslims, Christians and Jews participated in an interfaith Passover Seder in March at Temple Beth El. An interfaith comedy show was held Sunday in Tacoma. A salmon bake is planned for July.

By the end of July, volunteers are expected to finish building the four-bedroom, 1,295-square-foot house for Patricia and Noe Gabriel, and their four children, ages 4 to 15. The Gabriels will move from their 10-by-50-foot mobile home in South Tacoma where they pay $470 a month for their lot and electricity.

Their house is one of 12 to be built by several volunteer groups in Habitat’s Larabee Terrace project on East Gregory Street Court on Tacoma’s East Side. Monthly mortgage payments will range from $500 to $880 a month, depending on the family’s income.

Three houses already have been completed. The Gabriels’ house will be the 162nd that Habitat, a Christian-based housing ministry, has constructed in Pierce County.

Habitat sells homes at no profit with no interest to people with low incomes. Each family must work a total of 500 hours on its own or other Habitat homes.

Maureen Fife, chief executive officer of Tacoma/Pierce County Habitat for Humanity, said the timing was right for the interfaith project. She said the goal is to build relationships and break down barriers. Over the four months, an estimated 250 volunteers – including some American Indians – will work on the house.

Lan Ma was in the minority on the interfaith building site. She doesn’t have a particular religion.

“I’m none and I’m all,” said Ma, of Sammamish. She wasn’t bothered that people of different faiths were working around her.

“It doesn’t matter so long as they don’t force any ideas on me,” Ma said. “I just want to help.”

One of the ground rules for volunteers is no proselytizing.

Ma took turns pounding one nail at a time with Habiba Karim, a Muslim from University Place. Ma pounded once, then Karim pounded the same nail.

Amir Abdul-Matin said a blessing at lunchtime for more than 80 volunteers working on several houses in Larabee Terrace. He thanked God for an “environment that is conducive to inclusion.”

Abdul-Matin, 59, said the interfaith project unites people to work together.

“A Muslim isn’t going to hammer a nail any different than a Jew or a Christian,” said Abdul-Matin, president and imam of the Islamic Education and Community Center in Tacoma. Sonja Miller, of Agnus Dei Lutheran Church in Gig Harbor, called the build a miracle as she swept up sawdust inside the framed house.

“We have these differences but we won’t let them divide us or make us anything less than God’s family working together for the common good,” said Miller, 70.

“To me, this is what life is all about: just helping to make life better for other people,” Miller said. “It’s what makes you rich.”

Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647
steve.maynard@thenewstribune.com
Source: http://www.thenewstribune.com/topstory/story/772236.html

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