AUSTIN, Texas — As Muslims in America face an unprecedented wave of violence in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, Americans of many faiths are coming together to show solidarity against these disturbing threats.
According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest advocacy group for Muslims in the United States, there have been 29 cases of attacks or vandalism against mosques in 2015 — the most for any year since the organization began tracking incidents in 2009.
“November 2015 was the most significant spike, with a total of 17 mosque incidents, with all but 2 of those incidents occurring in the wake of the November 13 Paris terror attacks,” CAIR reported.
The increased threats targeting mosques accompanies an ever-growing number of incidents against Muslims and Muslim-owned businesses in the country.
But even as armed protesters become a disturbingly common sight outside mosques, there are also growing efforts across the country to show support for the principle of religious freedom on which the country was founded. Many of the strongest efforts toward offering support and creating a healthy dialogue about the role of religion in America are coming from the Christian and interfaith communities.
Writing on Sunday for Huffington Post, Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, a professor of theology at Chicago Theological Seminary, wrote that these efforts “are shining lights into the darkness being spread by anti-Muslim fear-mongering and hateful speech, and many are also resisting violence.”
Here are five examples of America’s religious communities showing support for Muslims:
- Interfaith service reaffirms religious freedom in Raleigh, North Carolina — WRAL reported that leaders from a variety of faiths gathered at the Islamic Association of Raleigh on Dec. 11 to reject divisive rhetoric by politicians like Donald Trump, who recently declared that he would implement a tracking database for Muslims in the U.S. Rev. Nancy Petty, pastor of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, said: “[As] people of faith, as moral, ethical human beings, we cannot remain silent or invisible at the rise of intolerance, prejudice and hostility toward our Muslim brothers and sisters here in America.”
- St. Thomas University issues messages of support, offers Muslim prayer room — On Dec. 10, Julie Sullivan, the president of St. Thomas University, a Catholic university in St. Paul, Minnesota, offered a statement of support for Muslim students and staff. It read, in part: “At a time of deeply troubling anti-Muslim political rhetoric in American society, we at the University of St. Thomas reiterate our welcome to Muslims as members of our community, our gratitude for the many contributions that Muslims make to our community, and our unwavering support especially for our many Muslim students.” Lindsey Seavert, a reporter at Minneapolis-based KARE, reported that the campus features a dedicated prayer room for Muslims, and Ayan Ahmed, a junior at the school, told Seavert, “There’s a shared commonality and believe in God and they are very accepting of Muslims.”
- Irving, Texas, counters hate rally with a “peace march”: After the KKK backed out of a planned Dec. 12 rally at a mosque in Irving, a city near the Dallas-Forth Worth Metroplex, local residents transformed their plans for a counter-rally into a peace march to show solidarity with people of all faiths. One attendee told WFAA: “The activities happening around the community are really distressing to me. So I came here to show solidarity with my brothers and sisters who follow Islam, to say that my faith requires that I value all humans.” WFAA reported that many attendees also brought teddy bears which would be donated to Syrian refugee families that will soon be settled in the area.
- Dearborn Heights, Michigan, opposes Islamophobic violence after shooting of Sikh man: On Dec. 17, religious leaders from Dearborn Heights, a city in the Detroit metropolitan area, gathered to oppose violence and reaffirm their support for religious freedom and interfaith unity. Niraj Warikoo, writing for the Detroit Free Press, reported that one inspiration for the gathering was a Dec. 12 attack on a Sikh clerk at a convenience store in Grand Rapids by a robber who accused the victim of being a Muslim terrorist. Warikoo reported that the Jewish, Muslim and Christian clergy attending “criticized hateful rhetoric against Muslims and immigrants being made by politicians and others. They worried that the heated atmosphere is leading to division and violence in some cases.” Rev. Lawrence Glass, president of The Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit and Vicinity, spoke out against profiling and stereotyping at the event, saying: “America is the land of diversity and the land of liberty.”
- Chicago seminary calls on Christian women to wear hijabs in support of Muslim women: On Dec. 18, Alice Hunt, the president of Chicago Theological Seminary, called on Christian women to wear a hijab for the remainder of Advent as a way of showing solidarity with hijab-wearing Muslim women, who Hunt says face increased violence because of their increased visibility. “As people of faith, we embrace love instead of hate, community instead of alienation, and respect instead of fear-mongering,” Hunt wrote.
‘Tell them you support them being in your community’
MintPress News asked Ben Franklin, a representative of the Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church located north of Houston, what Americans can do to show support for Muslims during these dangerous times. Together with the Unitarian Universalist Voice for Justice of Greater Houston and Solidarity Houston, Franklin has organized successful efforts to support Muslims in the Houston metropolitan area and throughout the state. He stressed the importance of first making connections with your neighborhood mosque or Islamic center, and making sure you know their wishes before acting.
For Franklin, the Irving peace march was a perfect example of this — organizers originally planned a rally outside the mosque, but moved to a nearby park at the request of the local imam after the KKK canceled their event.
Franklin recommended sending a simple letter of introduction and support first, then attending a public event to introduce yourself in person and offer further help. “Tell them you support them being in your community,” he said.
He stressed the importance of establishing relationships both with local Muslims and pre-existing interfaith groups before these kinds of xenophobic events occur, so that communities can be prepared to rapidly oppose anti-Muslim groups.
He says interfaith efforts are becoming more organized on a statewide and national scale. “We’re attempting to build a rapid response network. I’m hoping we can set up nodes in different cities so if one of us hears about an event we can pass it on and all be more aware,” he concluded.
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