In America's Heartland, Building One Home For Three Faiths Three faith communities in Omaha, Neb. — one Christian, one Jewish, one Muslim — are leaving their old places of worship and building a new, single campus for their mosque, synagogue and church.
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In America's Heartland, Building One Home For Three Faiths

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In America's Heartland, Building One Home For Three Faiths

In America's Heartland, Building One Home For Three Faiths

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/460149212/460166900" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

OK, so a mosque, a church and a synagogue go up on the site of an old Jewish country club. This is actually not the setup to a joke. It's really happening in Omaha, Neb. Backers say the Tri-Faith Initiative is likely the first of its kind. As Frank Morris of member station KCUR reports, the project has both inspired and worried residents.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: In a tony suburban section of Omaha, kids at Countryside United Church of Christ are getting ready for the Christmas program.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Just do the first part, and...

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing) Away in a manger...

MORRIS: Upstairs, in the church's modern, expansive coffee shop, Pastor Eric Elnes says this is going to be one of the congregation's last Christmas's here.

ERIC ELNES: We love our building. There's literally no good reason to move whatsoever except to follow this vision of the Tri-Faith Initiative, which has really absolutely moved our hearts.

MORRIS: And the Tri-Faith Initiative is going in here near the edge of Omaha, in this hilly, 38-acre plot bisected by a creek. The church will be up on one corner, with the mosque on the other, and facing a beautiful new synagogue built with stone quarried in Jerusalem. Aryeh Azriel is rabbi at Temple Israel.

ARYEH AZRIEL: This is something that God wanted us to do a long time ago, and we were completely blinded in doing other things.

MORRIS: Azriel says Jews, Christians and Muslims have a history of working together here. On 9/11, he and his congregants helped protect one of the city's mosques. When Temple Israel voted to move to the burbs a decade ago, leaders envisioned a multi-worship campus, almost a micro do-over of the Middle East.

AZRIEL: It's not a very good neighborhood in the Middle East, but Omaha is a unique place where those kind of relationship can exist.

MORRIS: Here, in a small suburban office building, is the American Muslim Institute, the Islamic leg of the Tri-Faith stool. Karim Khayati helped establish it in part to promote interfaith cooperation.

KARIM KHAYATI: This is a challenging time, and I think it's an invitation to work and to love and to educate. And that's what we're doing.

MORRIS: But this temporary mosque doesn't attract many of Omaha's 6,000-or-so Muslims or reflect the anxiety that some of them feel about mixing religions.

BASSIM AL-EBADI: I believe it's not a good idea.

MORRIS: Bassim al-Ebadi runs the Green Land Market, a Middle Eastern grocery in an Omaha strip mall, and he worries that Tri-Faith could backfire, damaging the civil vibe he enjoys here.

EBADI: Maybe if something happen, like, in Israel or, like, in Iraq or, like, everywhere, then maybe they will bring all the problems to America.

MORRIS: Another immigrant, Mark Christian, who converted from Christianity to Islam, worries that setting up a place dedicated to promoting cooperation between Muslims, Christians and Jews could provoke terrorists.

MARK CHRISTIAN: It's completely against the beliefs of Islam, and it is going to set my community and my city of Omaha as a target.

DOUG DUSHAN: And that kind of makes it feel right.

MORRIS: That's Doug Dushan, a member of Countryside Church, who says attacking the foundation of extremist, separatist ideology isn't just dangerous. It's exhilarating.

DUSHAN: It does reinforce that, I think, any of the important developments in any faith have happened kind of against the grain.

MORRIS: Other similar initiatives are underway. One in Berlin would house all three religions in a single building. Pastor Elnes says it's part of a growing movement.

ELNES: Right now, worldwide, what we see, particularly when we look at the three Abrahamic faiths, is that the progressive end of all three of those faiths actually have more in common with each other than they may have in common with extreme ends in their own faith.

SYED MOHIUDDIN: Absolutely absolutely true.

MORRIS: Syed Mohiuddin is a cardiologist who heads the American Muslim Institute. He's excited to complete the Tri-Faith campus, which should happen in the next few years.

MOHIUDDIN: We will have music. We will have parties (laughter), food. Food brings everybody together.

MORRIS: Well, once they work out the various dietary restrictions and hundreds of other small issues - the name of the creek running through the middle of campus, for instance. It's called Hell Creek. Rabbi Azriel wants that changed ASAP, but Mohiuddin likes the symbolism. So as members of the Tri-Faith Initiative coalesce around high ideals and a historic vision, the devil may still be in the details. For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris.

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