According to a national survey, 62% of Americans say they have never met a Muslim. Here in the Tri-Cities, with its significant population of residents from India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, there is a far greater likelihood that your neighbor, your co-worker, or your child’s classmates are Muslim.
Yet even though many of us may be acquainted with folks who are Muslim, how deep is that relationship? Is it on a level that is cordial but never goes beyond the level of polite conversation? Is your relationship more substantial, where you really know one another and have been in each other’s homes and share holiday traditions? Beyond that, do you know a Muslim well enough to engage in honest dialogue, trusting one another well enough to ask probing questions and identify areas where you may agree – or disagree – especially when it comes to a subject like Israel?
As a Jewish American, I feel a deep affinity for Muslim Americans. It was not so long ago that my grandparents came to this country seeking freedom from persecution. As minorities within their communities, my grandparents faced prejudice and discrimination from the majority population. There were daunting challenges, including the presumption that Jews were not loyal citizens and were security threats because they were foreign-born. Demagogues took to the media and called for a closing of America’s borders, which indeed happened to the Jews in the mid-1920’s.
In our post- 9/11 world, Muslim Americans have been subject to suspicion, surveillance, and attacks. Muslim Americans have reported being assaulted in parks while praying, bullied at school, and spat on while driving. In 2015, according to a CNN report, 63 mosques in the United States were vandalized, harassed or subjected to death threats. Imagine if this had occurred against synagogues in America? We would be rightfully alarmed.
The most effective antidote to hatred is education. It takes a concerted effort in our schools, our neighborhoods, and our community to reduce the barriers of ignorance that prevent us from seeing our common humanity. The Tri-City Interfaith Council is being pro-active by sponsoring our annual World Interfaith Harmony Day this Saturday at the Veterans’ Memorial Hall in Niles from 1-4pm.
During the afternoon, there will be a speaker about Islam. There also will be opportunity for dialogue with Muslims, as well as people from other faith traditions.
Each of us can do more to foster respect and understanding. To that end, I hope take to heart a statement we unanimously endorsed at yesterday’s meeting of the Interfaith Council:
“The Tri-City Interfaith Council condemns the inflammatory rhetoric and acts of aggression that are taking place against the Muslim community in the United States. These actions are unacceptable and only promote divisiveness in our country. We view this discrimination, not only as immoral, but as counter to the very premise upon which our country was founded. We are a nation of immigrants. Many of us, or our ancestors, have come from all over the world specifically seeking a life of freedom, justice, and equality.
Robert F. Kennedy said, ‘Ultimately, America's answer to the intolerant man is diversity, the very diversity which our heritage of religious freedom has inspired.’ We are blessed to live in a diverse community and we appreciate the gifts that each culture and faith tradition brings. We reach out to our neighbors with compassion and celebrate our diversity.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’ We will not be silent in the face of such prejudice. The Tri-City Interfaith Council stands in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters. We defend the rights of Muslims to practice their faith in peace and safety. We defend and uphold the human rights and dignity of all people.
We invite our entire community to do the same. It is only by treating others as we wish to be treated that we will find lasting peace.”