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Faith initiative uses sounds of worship to help build bridges

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Updated: May 6, 2014 6:04AM

The dynamic recitation of the Quran by Islamic children, a Jewish cantor chanting and melodically interpreting an ancient Hebrew prayer and a gospel choir rocking the pews — these are among the many sounds of faith.

Such sounds bring people closer to God and can bring people closer to each other. That’s according to Dr. Shakeela Hassan, founder of Chicago-based Harran Productions Foundation, which works to build bridges between faiths and people through its Sounds of Faith initiative.

The project brings together representatives from the three Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam to perform concerts, including one taking place Sunday at Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago.

Sounds of Faith, which invites diverse religious organizations to participate, has held 12 concerts reaching thousands since launching about five years ago, including performances in New York and Miami, said program director and board member Matthew Dean.

“The sounds we make in worship are so universally connecting and awesome,” said Hassan, who launched the initiative after retiring as associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care at the University of Chicago.

“Howsoever we are praying, whatever our mode of prayer or place of worship, we are praying to the God that created us all.”

Hassan, who is Muslim and a native of India, said Sounds of Faith has focused on the three Abrahamic faiths, because they “emphasize oneness of God, oneness of humanity and service to God by serving each other. This kind of unites us.”

She added Abrahamic faiths make up more than 50 percent of the world’s population and generally speaking “we are the newsmakers and we are the troublemakers, so if we are at peace with each other, it will make the world better and we will invite others to join in.”

Hassan, who prior to launching Sounds of Faith was the national fundraising chair on the PBS documentary “Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet,” said her fascination with faith sounds began decades ago. That was when she accepted an invitation to attend mass at St. Mary of Nazareth hospital in Chicago, where at the time she was a young medical resident.

“Listening to the nuns chanting the prayers in Latin, I was fascinated with the sound and their prayer,” she said. “It sent me automatically in a state of prayer of my own. I was praying in Arabic. I was reciting with such concentration that it was connecting me to God,” and she recognized the interconnection of the sacred sounds.

“It had an impact on my being. Everyone is trying to reach God in some sound, some expression of their own. I believe God understands every sound, every language and also knows what is the intent of a person to reach God. That is the impact that has resulted in the work I am doing.”

Cantor Alberto Mizrahi of Anshe Emet Synagogue has performed at Sounds of Faith concerts and invited the nonprofit to partner with the synagogue on its 12th Annual Dr. Arnold H. Kaplan Concert Sunday, which is sold out.

“This speaks to me in very profound ways,” he said of the initiative. “We don’t communicate enough, the various religions. Barriers are broken so quickly once you sit down at a rehearsal and start singing music, and you hear their music and they hear your music and then you combine your music.

“I have strongly believed in sound and music of the various faiths as being not only unique and individually beautiful, but also similar in many ways and being the thread, the glue that binds us.”

Amro Helmy, director of the Islamic Foundation School Children’s Choir, who has been a part of several Sounds of Faith concerts, said he participates because “all the religions together, it gets us to know each other, how they pray, how Muslims pray and how Christians pray. . . . It’s spreading love through the music.” And, he said, he has made new friends.

A major goal of Sounds of Faith is building dialogue that continues after the concerts, said Dean, a Catholic soloist and musician.

“We want people who had not previously been in contact to be able to reach out and collaborate with each other, spiritually culturally, musically,” he said.


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