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Faith leaders, scholars of the Southwest on world conflicts, holy holidays

Muslim worshippers pray beneath the Dome of the Rock Mosque at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound for the second Friday prayers on the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Jerusalem's Old City, Friday, March 22, 2024.
Mahmoud Illean
Muslim worshippers pray beneath the Dome of the Rock Mosque at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound for the second Friday prayers on the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Jerusalem's Old City, Friday, March 22, 2024.

The Easter season coming up commemorates the Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus, yet its significance extends beyond religious boundaries. During this time of year, which coincides with Ramadan and follows the Jewish holiday of Purim, people of various faiths and even those without religious affiliations find resonance.

For many, it symbolizes hope and new beginnings, mirroring the arrival of spring with its themes of renewal and vitality. It can also foster a sense of community, encouraging gatherings with friends and family that transcend religious differences.

However, in a time when Israel, Palestine, Ukraine and Russia are in conflict; how do local religious communities with ties to those places heal and gather together? Do some feel conflicted, or do they ultimately try and have empathy with one another?

Fateen Seifullah, an imam for Masjid As-Sabur in Las Vegas, said scripture advocates for empathy.

"The Quran is clear. All life is sacred," said Seifullah. "Whenever there's the killing of innocent people, we feel that pain and we remind our congregants of the text itself. God says that all life is sacred. If you kill one life, it's like killing all of humanity. So, our community is aware of it."

Seifullah's mosque also routinely holds discussions with its congregates to address trauma and mental health issues.

Rabbi Sara Zober for Temple Sinai in Reno, Nevada said aid must be provided to everyone who needs it.

"If you destroy one life, it's as if you've destroyed the entire world is also found in the Talmud," said Zober. "It's really important for us to make sure that innocents are taken care of, and that there's no incongruence between supporting Israel, making sure that it's safe, but also providing aid, safety and liberation for the Palestinian people. Some people don't like hearing that, but my job as a moral leader is to make sure peace is always at the forefront."

Zober said during the Jewish holiday, Purim, congregants inquired about how and where to donate to provide aid for Gaza.

Father Vasile Sauciur for Saint Volodymyr Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Los Angeles, California, said forgiveness is hard for us because we're human, but that doesn't mean people shouldn't try.

"There is a way. It's the divine way, "said Sauciur. "Humanly, I cannot do it. But if I'm inspired, and connected to the Holy Spirit, I think it's possible. But again, it's very hard, because naturally we try to defend ourselves. And it's okay to have those feelings, but that doesn't mean that we act upon them. Many of our friends and relatives have suffered because of this [Ukrainian/Russian] war. All wars in my opinion are a sign of chaos and lack of communication."

Sauciur said his church has made efforts to expand to Las Vegas since the city doesn't have a dedicated Ukrainian Orthodox church.

Long-running organization, the Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada, holds community discussions with people of all faiths and creeds to foster understanding and compassion. President Gard Jameson said ignorance and fear are things the organization is trying to fight against.

"The first thing you have to do is defuse the fear that exists," said Jameson. "There's tremendous fear now as a result of COVID, as a result of losing loved ones. We have a lot of trauma in the environment. There's also a lot of ignorance about other traditions, and there's a lot more in common then what separates us. Underneath our diversity, there's a unity. When embraced, we find unconditional love and the possibility of compassion."

Religion scholar and UNLV assistant professor of social work, Nicholas Barr, said religion and belief in something helps humanity derive meaning in their lives; and in turn, improve their well-being.

"How do people make sense of a chaotic and sometimes frightening world? How do they understand and integrate chaotic and painful experiences of suffering?," said Barr. "Meaning is really how people can move forward and integrate that pain into a worldview that allows them to be healthy and hopefully thrive. I think religions represent our earliest efforts to organize and make sense of a confusing and chaotic world. They provide that community which is such a critical element of human well being. If you don't find that through religion, then I think it's key to find it in other places."

Guests: Fateen Seifullah, imam, Masjid As-Sabur Mosque; Nicholas Barr, assistant professor of social work, UNLV; Gard Jameson, president, Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada; Sara Zober, rabbi, Temple Sinai in Reno; Vasile Sauciur, priest, Saint Volodymyr Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Los Angeles, California

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Christopher Alvarez is a news producer and podcast audio editor at Nevada Public Radio for the State of Nevada program, and has been with them for over a year.