The terrorist attacks in Paris by Islamic State militants are the most recent act of incomprehensible violence by a group that says the West is at war with Islam. For many, religious intolerance and the inability to coexist are central to this kind of extremist ideology.
But for decades, the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington has successfully bridged gaps between religious beliefs. One of the many ways? An annual concert that celebrates all faiths.
This year's event was held Thursday, just days after the Paris attacks, at Washington Hebrew Congregation, and the minds of those gathered were focused on matters in the French capital.
“There are folks out there who are trying to use divisions among people to cause violence,” said Rabbi Gerry Serotta, executive director of the Interfaith Conference.
Many of the attendees saw religious intolerance as one of the factors to blame for the attacks.
“Intolerance is being created by people who are afraid that they’re losing something," said Dr. Rajwant Singh of the Guru Gobind Singh Foundation in suburban North Potomac, Maryland. "We think that somebody is going to take away my place or my piece of the universe. Nobody is able to do that."
People at the concert said the inclusiveness that marked the event stood in stark contrast to what happened in Congress and in U.S. statehouses after the Paris attacks.
After police found a Syrian passport that allegedly belonged to one of the terrorists in Paris, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would make the vetting process for Syrian refugees tougher.
Also this week, more than half the governors of U.S. states said they would refuse to accept refugees into their states.
Serotta said these politicians were contradicting the values of their religious faiths.
“I think it’s disgraceful, I think it’s anti-religious and I think it’s anti-American," he said, "and I must say, I am not a political scientist but I think that the folks who are attacking in France and in Lebanon, they want us to respond like that.”
So in the midst of tough times such as those of the present day, Muslims, Christians, Mormons, Jews, Sikhs and many members of other beliefs get together in this concert to celebrate their diverse religious backgrounds.
“It’s kind of like a river, a lake, a pond, a stream — they all have different names but they all contain water," said Talib Shareef, president and imam of Masjid Muhammad in Washington, known as the Nation's Mosque. "But here we have these different labels, but we all have the human soul.”
And in times when for some religion is divisive, this concert shows that is possible for people to coexist.