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`DEEPEST, MOST PROFOUND' QUESTION 2 FAITHS EXPLORE GOD AND DISASTER MUSLIM, JEW TO EXPLAIN THEIR RELIGIONS' VIEWPOINTS ON DEITY'S ROLE IN STRIFE.

Byline: HOLLY J. ANDRES Staff Writer

GRANADA HILLS -- Awed by photos of a city reduced to rubble and trying to fathom the death toll after the ``fill-in-the-blank'' disaster in a ``fill-in-the-blank'' country is cause to ponder whether you have a belief in a higher spiritual power.

Where is God when disasters and tragedies occur is the topic of a Valley Interfaith Council panel discussion Sunday at The Islamic Center of Northridge in Granada Hills.

``Of all the questions a person of faith can ask, this is the deepest, most profound. From the recent tsunami and 9-11, the question is, why does God let it happen?'' said Omar Ricci, chairman of the Muslim Public Affairs Council of Los Angeles and a spokesman for the Islamic Center of Southern California.

``From the Islamic perspective, we don't know why. One, it may be a test of faith. Two, the Quran says that this life is but a short time and that people who die in such tragic circumstances enter into paradise, which is forever.''

Ricci, a Glendale resident, will read some verses from the Quran and offer some stories that address the topic that test believers of all faiths at the discussion.

``Some people may think that God sent these things down because people were misbehaving. The notion that God sent Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami, I think that's very dangerous to try to interpret,'' Ricci said.

``We believe that nobody knows God's master plan. Also, for the people who weren't directly affected, is this a test (from God)? What did you do to help and (what does) this mean on a macro- and micro level? Did I, as a Muslim, help alleviate the problem?''

A person's sense of God is key to believing that God plays a hands-on role in natural disasters and personal tragedies.

``From the biblical tradition, we get that God is sometimes an angry and punishing God. From the Book of Job, we hear Job say, `Why have you done this to me?''' said Rabbi Jan Offal, interim rabbi at Temple Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills beginning July 1.

``Job's friends tell him, `You must have done something wrong.' Lots of people say, `God has abandoned me.' This topic, `Where was God?' is an on-going, lifelong question for Holocaust survivors. For many of them, their experience turned off their faith, and for others their faith was strengthened.'' Offal said she enjoys taking part in interfaith panel discussions because it gives the public a chance to hear the similarities and differences in faith traditions from a participant's personal point of view.

One commonality of Judaism and Islam that Offal and Ricci would agree on is the notion that it's not for humans to understand God's ways. Both are prepared to discuss prayer options as a response to difficult times at the discussion.

``The Quran has a special verse that talks about, for every tragedy, disaster, whenever there is hardship, ease will come,'' said Ricci. ``God tells us, as Muslims, that you can't let yourself go (into despair). This verse, and it's repeated, shows that despair doesn't take over.''

Valley Interfaith Council's panel discussion and question-and-answer session, ``Where is God When Disaster Strikes?'' will be held at 7 p.m. Sunday at The Islamic Center of Northridge, 11439 Encino Ave., Granada Hills. Call (818) 718-6460, Ext. 3001.

holly.andres(at)dailynews.com

(818) 713-3708

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Omar Ricci will discuss the Muslim viewpoint of "Where is God When Disaster Strikes?" at a Valley Interfaith Council panel discussion Sunday. Rabbi Jan Offal, interim rabbi at Temple Kol Tikvah, will speak about the Jewish viewpoint.

David Sprague/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 24, 2006
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