Mouna Photography for the Wisconsin Muslim Journal

Before a tranquil pond filled with heart-shaped lily pads and croaking frogs, a diverse group of faith leaders took turns Sunday morning sharing prayers and messages of hope for refugees across the world. A small audience looked on as a videographer captured prayers by and for refugees in multiple languages for a program that would air that afternoon.

This humble gathering at Lynden Sculpture Garden, just north of Milwaukee, to celebrate the 20th annual World Refugee Day represents a big step toward a better future, and not just for refugees.

Milwaukee’s celebration is unique nationwide

Dr. Matthew C. Weiner, Princeton University associate dean in the Office of Religious Life, learned about the HOME-at-Lynden event recently when his office worked with the United States Bishops Conference of the Catholic Church to locate cities that would hold prayer services for refugees.

He heard the list of prayer givers at the Milwaukee event, including refugees from different parts of the world and of different religions. It was “an ideal version of what I imagined could happen,” Weiner said. He asked for a meeting with the organizers and discovered “it was even more impressive.

“Religiously different refugees, combined with the shared effort of an interfaith organization, partnered with refugee programs and a refugee organization led by refugees themselves, all within the Lynden Sculpture Garden, a space operated for the public good – this is democracy in action!

“The definition of democracy is people of different identities, reaching across differences to work together for the common good. Everyone came and said, ‘This is what I can bring.’ And it all worked together beautifully. I am blown away by it.”


HOME-at-Lynden is the moniker for the work the Lynden Sculpture Garden does with refugee community leaders, local community members and allies to engage Milwaukee’s refugee community with the greater community. It held its first World Refugee Day celebration in 2019, drawing more than 1,000. Due to the pandemic, the 2020 WRD celebration was held virtually on the new HOME-at-Lynden online platform. The 2021 celebration is hybrid and dispersed throughout the summer.

Hanan Refugee Relief Group Milwaukee Chapter has been a sponsor of HOME since the beginning. It also serves as a hub for communicating with Greater Milwaukee’s refugee communities.

The Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee decided to partner this year with HOME-at-Lynden, said ICGM Program Director Cherrie Hanson. Its Committee for Interfaith Understanding, made up of representatives of diverse faiths and headed by Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition President Janan Najeeb, wanted to do something for World Refugee Day, Hanson said. “Janan knew all this was happening and was a good link. We thought, ‘Why reinvent the wheel?’ We decided it would be better to support this effort.”

Because of the addition of the interfaith prayer service, “they all get to know each other,” said Princeton’s Weiner. “Prayer is an end in itself. In this case, it also built community and served as a symbol, a gesture toward making the world better, especially doing this at a time when we are thinking of bringing more refugees into this country.”

Festivities throughout the summer

The model for this year’s World Refugee Day celebration is hybrid and dispersed, explained Kim Kaira, community engagement specialist at Lynden and the host of the video broadcast. The day began at Lynden Sculpture Garden at 10 a.m. with a land acknowledgment, followed by the interfaith prayer service, a bilingual storytime and a carving workshop led by Lynden’s artist-in-residence Daniel Minter of Portland, Maine. Minter and Lynden won the Joyce Award in May, a prestigious award to support collaborations between artists of color and leading arts, cultural and community-based organizations.

The HOME-at-Lynden video program, Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m., included the prayers of local religious leaders of diverse faiths and praise for refugees from government officials and representatives of agencies that work with refugee communities.

In his comments, Dr. Zulfiqar Shah, the religious director of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee, spoke about the importance of caring for refugees in the Islamic faith. “Prophet Mohammad, the founder of Islam and his early disciples were immigrants

Therefore, welcoming these strangers, settling the refugees, relieving the pain of displacement, the loss of family, friends and homes, helping in regaining independence, self-sufficiency, safety, freedom, dignity, new homes, hopes and new lives are all integral to Islamic foundational texts such as the Quran, the hadiths, and prophetic traditions.

“Having mercy on people of the earth guarantees mercy of the heavens. Helping the refugees is considered equal to helping God,” he said. “This is a divinely ordained mercy. Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy.”

The video program featured internationally renowned musician Hamid Ullah, a Rohingya refugee from Myanmar who fled his country in the 1990s and is now resettled in Ontario, Canada. He is known for his mastery of the mandolin and harmonium and his narrations of hope and lamentation from Rohingya oral poetry. (The largest population of Rohingya refugees in the U. S. is in Milwaukee.)

Future events throughout the summer will feature the talents and works of refugees, including:

Music Day, Saturday, July 10

Dance Day, Sunday, July 25

Fashion Day, Saturday, Aug. 7

Craft Day, Saturday, Aug. 21

And Craft Day, Saturday, Sept. 18

All events will be held at the Lynden Sculpture Garden at 2145 W. Brown Deer Road, River Hills. For more information, visit:

World Refugee Day

The United Nations designated June 20 as World Refugee Day to celebrate the strength and courage of people who have been forced to flee their home to escape conflict or persecution. It also serves to shine a light on the rights, needs and dreams of refugees, and helps “mobilize political will so refugees can not only survive but also thrive,” the U.N. Refugee Agency website says. It was celebrated for the first time in 2001.

Today there are more than 82.4 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, according to the latest UNHCR Global Trends Report