AP New Jersey

Christians, Muslims pledge peace after slaying of Coptic family

Associated Press Writer

April 20, 2005, 5:19 PM EDT

JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- Declaring an end to "a period of agony in our community," Muslim, Christian and other religious leaders signed a pledge Wednesday rejecting hatred and promising to build better interfaith ties in the aftermath of the murder of an Egyptian Christian family.

Representatives of Muslim, Coptic Christian, Roman Catholic, Hindu, Baha'i, Episcopal and Lutheran congregations met at City Hall to sign an oversized copy of a pledge not to let the divisions that followed the murder of the Armanious family happen again.

The gathering came after months of acrimony and failed attempts to bring Muslims and Coptic Christians together following the Jan. 11 stabbing deaths of Hossam Armanious, 47; his wife, Amal Garas, 37; and their children, Sylvia, 15, and Monica, 8.

Immediately after the bodies were discovered, friends of the family speculated that they might have been killed by Muslims angered over postings Hossam Armanious made in an Internet chat room under the user name "I Love Jesus." The chat room is frequented by both Muslims and Christians.

Even after two non-Muslims were charged with the killings, with robbery listed as the likely motive, many in the Coptic community continued to assert religious antagonism was behind the slayings.

"It's wonderful to end a period of agony in our community," said Ahmed Shedeed, director of the Islamic Center of Jersey City. "Jersey City without religious institutions doesn't have much to offer. We can be together, we can work together to promote love and promote unity in our community."

Likewise, the Rev. David Bebawy of St. George & St. Shenouda Coptic Orthodox Church, which the Armanious family attended, said both communities need to love and respect each other.

"Religion is for God, but the land is for everyone," he said. "We oppose hate and expressions of hate in all forms. In order for us to co-exist peacefully, we must learn to overcome our differences."

Since the killings, various efforts to bring the two sides together had failed. Muslim leaders held an interfaith event shortly afterward that was designed to have Muslim and Coptic Christian leaders appear together, renouncing hatred. But the Copts did not attend, saying the meeting was called on too short notice and coincided with a major Coptic religious holiday.

And both sides skipped a meeting that had been planned with a bias crimes task force of the state Attorney General's Office earlier this month, doubting its usefulness.

Several speakers on Wednesday stressed that the spirit of the gathering needs to outlast the event itself.

"We didn't just sign this because we've gone through crisis," said the Rev. Phil Latronico, chairman of the North Jersey Christian-Muslim Project. "We signed this because we want to be friends in good times as well."

And Mohamed Younes, president of the Totowa-based American Muslim Union, also said more action is needed.

"It's not going to be one move or two moves," he said. "We have to keep trying. Once you stop, you'll have nothing."

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