Imagine a scenario where a group of members of a congregation are heading to their church or church conference. They know before hand that awaiting them outside the church doors are men and women, armed with fully loaded guns and riffles, spitting out all kinds of racial slurs and religious slanders. How would that make you feel if you were one of those church members?
For Muslims, this scenario has become a daily reality. Muslims across the world, and across the different states and cities of our American nation, are facing this growing reality that not only disturbs their worldview and identity formation, but puts them physically and socially at risk.
For Dallas Muslims, this scenario has developed into a burdensome situation where they have been challenged with increasing religiously cloaked bigotry since the beginning of 2015. It all started with the terrorist attacks in Paris earlier in January and ended up in the battlefields of hatred on Texas grounds. A Muslim family event in Garland, Dallas vicinity, that took place in a conference building that belongs to the Garland Independent School District flared up the anger of conservative and fundamentalist groups who vowed on social media to stop the event. The Garland district did not give in to their requests to cancel the Muslim event because the building in question has always been used for functions outside the school district. The conservative groups started a campaign on social media asking people to demonstrate in front of the building on the day of the event. They showed up in hundreds, on their Harley Davidson bikes, with their rifles and guns fully loaded and unconcealed. They shouted at the Muslim families going into the building and threatened them, bullied them, and terrified them. They employed all kinds of racial slurs, religious bigotry and dirty language.
The Muslims in Dallas reacted right after they became aware of this anti-Muslim campaign. They planned a counter demonstration with signs expressing love and compassion as part of their religious tradition. They returned hatred with love. It took a lot of courage from these few Muslims who stood up bravely asserting their American identity and Muslim identity.
A few days later, Muslims were planning to take part in yet another annual event, the Muslim Day at Capitol Hill. Once again, bigots rallied online to stop this event. When they failed to have it cancelled, they stormed Austin and disrupted the Muslim event at Capitol Hill, right when American Muslim children were singing the national anthem. Muslims were told things like “don’t carry our American flags,” “all terrorists are Muslim,” and “go back home.” They were screamed at and assaulted…
The next day, a Muslim clergy and interfaith leader, Imam Bakhach, was invited to lead the prayer at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo (30 miles from Dallas). The interfaith prayer was part of a 23 day program where faith leaders from different faith traditions were invited to pray at the event, in recognition of the religious diversity in Fort Worth as well as in the Stock Show. Many Rodeo fans were outraged and cried out against this inclusion with statements like “Muslim/Islam has no place in this country” and “I just will choose NOT to go somewhere that embraces a religion that wants me, my family and my people DEAD.” Imam Backhach was supposed to lead the prayer again on Monday but decided to cancel his participation saying, “I love Fort Worth. It really hurt me to see this reaction.”
That was a brief description of American Muslim realities today that may give you, the reader, an idea of how it may feel to be hated as a Muslim. However, Texas and America are not home to only bigots, for there are a lot of great patriots and awesome Christians and Jews and other peoples of faith who are standing up in solidarity with their Muslim countrymen and women. Take for example the event that took place last weekend at North Haven Methodist United Church where Muslims were called up and invited to the church to be recognized as neighbors and to be given a pledge of friendship and support. Members of other faith traditions, like Buddhists, have participated in that event that started with prayers, then Arabic musical instruments playing the song This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land, with the audience, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and others singing along.
So what is the Muslim response to religious bigotry attacking their religion in America. Love. “Forgive them Father, for they do not know:” They are scared because they don’t know, because they lack the true knowledge, compassion, and courage to know. They hate us because they fear us. They fear us because they don’t know us, and they don’t wish to know us. Polls show that negative perceptions of Muslims and Islam increase among people who never met a Muslim. On the other hand, those who have a Muslim friend are more likely to have a positive image of the faith tradition. I extend an invitation to those who hate us to come to know us. Let us start a dialog with no strings attached. Let us listen to your deepest fears. Let us face our fears together.
I don’t hate those hatemongers; I feel pity for them. They have missed the real purpose of creation: diversity. Recalling the Qur’an, chapter 49, verse 13:
O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).