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Queens Interfaith Unity Walk to virtually celebrate founding of Flushing this Sunday

Photo by Rebecca Henely

The 12th annual Queens Interfaith Unity Walk will be held virtually this weekend to celebrate the 375th anniversary of Flushing, the most culturally diverse neighborhood in the borough.

The event will take place on Sunday, Oct. 17, at 3 p.m., featuring video tours of several houses of worship. 

Online viewers can learn more about the Al Khoei Muslim Center, the Hindu Temple Society of North America, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Queens, the Sikh Center of New York, and Flushing Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). 

At each stop, members of the respective faith will highlight the religious beliefs and traditions of each congregation as well as historic importance of each house of worship.

The event is organized by the Flushing Interfaith Council, which promotes religious tolerance in the area.

“Our recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic must not only include material investments, but also spiritual support and interfaith solidarity,” said John Choe, president of the Flushing Interfaith Council. “The spirit of solidarity and resilience embodied by our Unity Walk is especially important as we celebrate the 375th anniversary year of Flushing’s town charter, the first to guarantee religious freedom in America.”

On Oct. 10, 1645, Flushing became one of the first Dutch settlements on Long Island after Dutch Merchant and Director of New Netherland Willem Keift signed a charter, which guaranteed “liberty of conscience” to all residents of the Dutch village then called Vlissingen. 

In 1657, the Flushing Remonstrance, a petition by Gov. Peter Stuyvestant on behalf of the Quakers of New Netherland, challenged a ban on the practice of all religions outside of the Dutch Reformed Church, specifically through disallowing the harboring of Quakers in the colony. 

In 1662, John Bowne, an Englishman who is honored today as a pioneer in the American struggle for religious liberty, was arrested for allowing Quaker meetings in his home and was later sent to Holland to stand trial. Bowne had argued his case to the Dutch West India Company, citing the guarantees of religious liberty contained in the Flushing patent of 1645 granted by Kieft. 

As a result, Stuyvesant was ordered to permit all faiths in the colony. 

“The 1645 Charter signed by Director-General Willem Kieft on Oct. 10, 1645, and the Flushing Remonstrance of 1657 are the basis of the many freedoms we enjoy and the remarkable diversity we witness in our community today,” Choe said. 

The Queens Interfaith Unity Walk arose in response to post-9/11 challenges and developed from a model in Brooklyn called “Children of Abraham Peace Walk,” which has been bringing churches, mosques, and synagogues together for more than a decade.  

During the Unity Walk, there will be a conversation with Sahar Al-Sahlani, a board member of the Queens-based Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY), and the niece of the leader of the Al Khoei Center in Jamaica, a large Shia Muslim community with a global reach. 

“I am glad to facilitate this year’s Muslim organizational visit during Flushing Interfaith Council’s event,” Sahlani said. “Queens has one of the largest and most diverse Muslim communities in the nation, and probably the world!”

Harpreet Singh Wahan, of the Sikh Center of New York, said the relevance and importance of the Unity Walk stems from the rising number of hate crimes in society. 

“In a divided world of ‘us’ vs. ‘them,’ the very notion of ‘other’ needs to be shattered if we are to prevent future acts of bigotry,’” Singh said. “Our Unity Walk recognizes all humanity as one – ‘Let there be no strangers’ – through respect and mutual coexistence, we can ensure a better and safer world for all of us.”

Though she looks forward to the event every year, Adem Carroll, of the Muslim Progressive Traditionalist Alliance, said it is not only a “feel good” event. 

“Queens is highly diverse and has experienced some tensions and violence targeting that diversity. “We all need to show our solidarity and I hope the people of Queens will come and walk the Walk with us,” Carroll said. 

The Queens Interfaith Unity Walk is organized by the Flushing Interfaith Council and cosponsored by the Bahá’í Community of Queens; the Sikh Center of New York; the Hindu Temple Society of North America; the Muslim Progressive Traditionalist Alliance; Pax Christi Queens; Flushing Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers); the Free Synagogue of Flushing; the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; the Eckankar Community of Queens; and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Queens. 

For more information about the Flushing Interfaith Council, visit fb.com/flushinginterfaith.

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