By Paul Chaffee
THE MOST IMPORTANT STORY MAJOR MEDIA MISSED LAST MONTH
Last month, December 2015, in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, with Donald Trump threatening to close American borders to Muslims, and increasing incidents of Islamophobic violence, the major media barely noticed one of the most important stories.
Across this land dozens, and now hundreds of communities spontaneously have generated interfaith gatherings to stand against the violence and sour rhetoric and to affirm their friendship with Muslim brothers and sisters in their local communities.
You didn’t read about most of the following stories in major media. But if you surveyed local, regional papers and local TV news coverage, along with religious and interreligious newsletters, these gatherings piled up, peaking in mid-December but still going strong weeks later with new programs in dozens of different communities. Numerous communities noted that standing in solidarity with each other is nothing new – and that the huge wave of interfaith gatherings is simply a measured response to this month’s unfortunate news. I decided to spend some time identifying these stories:
In Carson, California, near San Bernardino, the City Council opened its December 15 meeting by inviting an imam, a rabbi, and a pastor to offer prayers of concern for those who lost family members in the San Bernardino tragedy as well as prayers of appreciation for the first-responders.
In Atlantic City, New Jersey leaders from government, law enforcement, and religious communities not only offered a broadside against Islamophobia from City Hall but called out Donald Trump and Ben Carson for adding fuel to the fire: “We deplore your statements about Muslims. We are against racism and bigotry. We stand united with all Americans.” This became a theme in many of the events.
- In Logan, Utah half a dozen religious groups, including the Latter Day Saints Student Association, joined to visit the Logan Islamic Center to show their friendship and solidarity with the Muslims in their community. Bonnie Glass-Coffin, who helped promote the visit, said, “We want to serve the common good, which is not being served by the current political rhetoric. There are a lot of people who have been hurt by it. So we’re coming together to show support.”
- Folks in Denver, Colorado were particularly creative, gathering more than than 200 people from a variety of religious traditions at a mosque for an evening of praying, lighting candles, making greeting cards and hanging ribbons in the name of peace and unity for all.
- In Cincinnati, Ohio women clergy from eight different religions organized an outdoor prayer meeting to unite women of different faiths in condemning hatred and intolerance. A press release said “We come together to remind ourselves and the nation that we are one. We are interconnected circles of humanity. Our ethical commitment is to all-American values such as pluralism, mutuality, religious freedom, and respect.”
- A downtown outdoor rally was organized in Bloomington, Indiana by the anti-discrimination group Not In Our Town to counter Islamophobia and to undercut fear. Planner Glen Becker said “Fear is so powerful … We believe love is more powerful than fear.” The purpose of the rally was to show “our Islamic brothers and sisters” that “this community is a safe, welcoming place.”
- In Rosedale, outside of Baltimore, Maryland leaders and their followers from different faiths gathered at a local mosque for an educational interfaith vigil, a time to get acquainted and to learn about each other’s traditions.
- In Las Vegas, Nevada more than 200 members from Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Episcopal, Sikh, Baha’i, Catholic, Buddhist and Christian Science traditions gathered at a mosque for an interfaith prayer vigil.
- In Louisville, Kentucky Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said “Americans must resist the hatred and suspicion that leads to policies of discrimination.” He went on to say, “When we fail to see the difference between our enemies and people of good will, we lose a part of who we are as people of faith.”
- In Washington DC, Vice President Joe Biden joined theologians and clerics from different religions at Georgetown University to decry the anti-Muslim rhetoric of the day. “Everyone is welcome here in America,” Biden said, noting that those who choose to immigrate to the United States are often those with the greatest faith and courage.
I quit collecting the notices when I got to 25, but daily stories keep coming about these friendship gatherings. They’ve arrived from Tampa, Columbus, Washington Township (NJ), Baltimore, Los Angeles, Miami, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Arlington, Fort Wayne, Augusta (GA), Silver Spring (MD), Santa Cruz, Berkeley, Grand Rapids, and so many more communities.
More Wisdom in the People than in the Frightening Headlines
Meanwhile good news came from pollsters. New research from the Pew Research Center suggests that the public rejects by a wide margin the idea of holding U.S. Muslims to increased scrutiny because of their religion. About six-in-ten Americans (61%) say Muslims living in the United States should not be subject to additional scrutiny solely because of their religion. It remains that 32% say Muslims should be subject to more scrutiny than people in other religious groups. Thirty-two percent is a tremendous burden for any group to bear, but it is not monolithic, and other traditions have faced similar trials and come through shining.
Saud Inan, a self-described Muslim American Activist, recently published “6 Ways Interfaith Partners can Stand with Muslims.” It’s a splendid primer for those who have met ‘the other’ and want some guidance for working together towards a healthy interfaith culture, locally and globally.
Finally, if you hear anyone still asking ‘Why don’t good Muslims stand up and condemn terrorism?’ – refer them to the story of 70,000 imams. Meeting in central India recently, they issued a fatwa, a theological condemnation, against terrorist organizations, including the Taliban, al Qaeda, and Daesh, the militant group that calls itself the Islamic State. I couldn’t find a single reference to this remarkable level of agreement in the American press, but Huffington Post Australia carried the story.