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National Day of Prayer a testament to America's uniqueness, backers say

National Day of Prayer activities include speeches and gatherings of many different faiths. Controversial to some, the National Day of Prayer has roots in the earliest days of the nation.

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He says he is looking forward to the mosque's Imam making it clear that Al Qaeda has a terrorist ideology which most mainstream Muslim organizations don’t share. “This is both personal and private as well as public and collective," says Ali. "Bin Laden's capture was the answer to our prayers so we will be giving thanks for that as well."

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Munira Syeda, spokeswoman for greater Los Angeles-area office of Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) says she hopes the National Day of Prayer will become more inclusive of non-Jewish and Christian religions.

"The National day of prayer, although historically significant, has generally been organized and observed by Christian denominations," she says. "We hope to see this annual day of prayer become more inclusive of all faith traditions. This year in particular, we call on all Americans to pray for the victims of injustices, terror and oppression in America and around the world, for our nation to be healed and strengthened, and for our troops to be brought back home soon."

How presidents have observed it

For eight years, President George W. Bush invited selected Christian and Jewish leaders to the White House East Room, where he typically would give a short speech and several leaders offered prayers.

On his first National Day of Prayer as President in 2009, President Obama distanced himself from the National Day of Prayer by foregoing a formal early morning service and not attending a large Catholic prayer breakfast the next morning. Then-White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama was reverting back to pre-Bush presidential practice.

The day is not without its controversies.

Rabbi Boteach says that several years ago, two Jewish rabbis took offense when one White House prayer breakfast focused directly on Jesus. “The rabbis asked, ‘How could this be a national day of prayer?’ " he says, noting that the Jewish community often doesn’t participate as much as he would like.

“But I disagreed with them, saying that every Christian has a right to pray to Jesus," he says. "This day doesn’t necessarily mean we all brush aside our spiritual techniques in order to be more universal – just that we should all not overdo it. I think this day needs more attention. I salute the idea completely.”

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