Throughout the presidential campaign, we saw a worrisome uptick in expressions of bigotry, including Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and anti-Hispanic and anti-immigrant rhetoric; much of it clearly in response to demagogic rhetoric in the campaign itself. In the last nine months since the election the number of hate crimes have soared. Mosques, synagogues and other houses of worship across the country have been desecrated by swastikas and hateful slogans, while in diverse cities, Muslim women have been assaulted by bigots, intent on tearing off their hijabs. Just this past Saturday morning, an explosive device was thrown from a vehicle into the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota. Luckily, the blast didn’t kill anyone as worshippers were still preparing for their morning prayers but it caused damage to the Imam’s office. The social media sphere immediately called this out for what it was – a terror attack – and now days later, we still await President Trump’s comment on this.
Yes, there is reason for concern about recent developments, but let us not forget there is plenty of good news as well — news which too often goes unreported in the media — about how members of the America’s diverse faith and ethnic communities have been reaching out to each other and working together on behalf of an inclusive and pluralistic America. Specifically, in response to the disturbing explosion of anti-Muslim bigotry, we have seen the rise of interfaith initiatives dedicated to standing up for American Muslims.
Ten years ago, in the fall of 2007, the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU) initiated the first-ever Summit of North American Imams and Rabbis in New York. In the decade since, Imam Shamsi Ali and I have worked together on a sustained basis with synagogues, mosques and Muslim and Jewish organizations across the U.S. and around the world to strengthen ties between our two communities on both the grass roots and leadership levels.
One of the most important principles of the work we have spearheaded is that Muslims and Jews must stand up for each other if either community is demonized, discriminated against or victimized by hate crimes or violence. Early on in this process, we saw prominent American Muslim leaders like Dr. Sayyid Syeed, National President of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) stepping forward to denounce Holocaust denial by professed Islamic groups like Hamas as immoral and un-Islamic. In 2011, the two of us hosted a public rally in Times Square to denounce anti-Muslim hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives during which I proudly said, “When my Muslim brothers and sisters are wrongly under attack, today I am a Muslim too.”
At about the same time, we saw the emergence of the Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign, a Washington-based coalition of national Christian and Jewish organizations, including the National Council of Churches, U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, Union for Reform Judaism and Jewish Theological Seminary, which have worked together fruitfully to fight against Islamophobia and uphold American values.
In the wake of the Presidential election, prominent Interfaith leaders gathered outside Washington’s Masjid Muhammad under the aegis of the Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign to proclaim, “We, the religious institutions of this great nation, stand shoulder to shoulder with each other in support of our Muslim brothers and sisters. No one should fear for their own safety in this country because of how they dress, how they pray or how recently they arrived.”
We have also seen encouraging evidence that elected officials – including Republicans – are responding to the calls by the Interfaith community to protect Muslims. On December 19, 2016 the majority of members of the New Jersey State Senate and Assembly – Republicans and Democrats alike – came together to take the ‘Stand Up for the Other’ pledge written by Dr. Ali Chaudry, a longtime friend and collaborator of FFEU who recently founded the New Jersey Interfaith Coalition. The pledge reads, “While interacting with members of my own faith, ethnic or gender community, or with others, if I hear hateful comments from anyone about members of any other community, I pledge to stand up for the Other and challenge bigotry in any form.”
We must stand in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters and forcefully push back if steps are taken that violate their constitutionally protected rights as American citizens. We must remain true to our democratic traditions. At this moment of testing, let all of us take a deep breath and agree to live up to the core beliefs in compassion and human dignity that undergird our respective faiths as well as American democracy. If we resolve together to stand up for each other and to protect the rights of Muslims and other faith or ethnic communities that might be demonized or discriminated against, there is no question that we will prevail over fear and bigotry.