JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Declaring an end to "a period of agony in our community," Muslim, Christian and other religious leaders signed a pledge to strengthen interfaith ties in the aftermath of the slaying of an Egyptian Christian family.
Representatives of Muslim, Coptic Christian, Roman Catholic, Hindu, Baha'i, Episcopal and Lutheran congregations met at City Hall on Wednesday to sign an oversized copy of a pledge not to let the divisions that followed the slayings happen again.
The Coptic Christian (search) family, Hossam Armanious (search), 47; his wife, Amal Garas, 37; and their children, Sylvia, 15, and Monica, 8, were found slain in their home Jan. 14. Authorities believe they had been killed three days earlier.
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.
Two non-Muslims were eventually charged with the killings, with robbery listed as the likely motive, but many in the Coptic community continued to assert religious antagonism was behind them.
The ceremony Wednesday was aimed at healing the wounds.
"It's wonderful to end a period of agony in our community," said Ahmed Shedeed, director of the Islamic Center of Jersey City (search).
Likewise, the Rev. David Bebawy of St. George & St. Shenouda Coptic Orthodox Church (search), which the Armanious family attended, said the communities need to love and respect each other.
"Religion is for God, but the land is for everyone," he said.
Other efforts to bring the two sides together had failed. Coptic leaders had skipped an interfaith event planned by Muslims, saying it was called on short notice and coincided with a holiday. And both sides stayed away from a meeting with a bias crimes task force of the state Attorney General's Office.
Many Coptics complain of discrimination in Egypt, where they comprise less than 6 percent of the population.