first published on Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal’s blog.
The last month has seen a resurgence in concerns about terrorism, both global and domestic. Between the ISIS attack on Paris, the Planned Parenthood shooter, and now the San Bernardino attacks, the end result is that American fears about terrorism are now greater than at any time since 9/11. Much of this fear has translated into intense unwarranted distrust against Muslims. Social media has been filled with hateful rhetoric targeting Islam, and an assumption that Islam is a religion of hatred and not peace. All Muslims have been cast into the same categories as being extremist radicalized jihadists. The rhetoric has only been made worse by extreme statements by presidential candidates and other public figures. The end result is a toxic environment in which core American values are being sacrificed for a politics of hatred, fear, and anger. A politics where well over 2.5 million American citizens feel threatened, targeted, and in danger.
It is easy to marginalize those who are different; those with names that sound foreign; those who profess a different faith; those who wear different clothing; those who look different. But when we do this, we diminish our own beliefs and faith traditions. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all a part of what are called the Abrahamic Faiths — all share a common belief in the same one God. A God of peace. The God of Abraham. Abraham is central to the story told in Genesis – the first book of the Bible. Abraham has a central role in not only Judaism, but in Christianity, and Islam as well. In the latter, Abraham, like Jesus, is revered as a prophet. Abraham represents faith, sacrifice, commitment, and patience. These are shared values, of three religions that profess peace and love as their primary values. Indeed, the very word Islam is derived from the Arabic word “salema” or peace. Muslims greet each other with “a salaam alikum” (peace be unto you). This is not just a platitude. It is part and parcel of Muslim belief and practice.
Yet, it is so easy to miss this, when all we see is someone different. It is only in the “other” where we can see the true face of God. As Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks proclaims in his book Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence, “the human other is a divine other” and the supreme challenge is to see God’s image in the one who is not in our image. It is in the desire to seek the divine other that makes it so important to take a stand against bigotry and hatred. And as Rabbi Sacks wrote last week in the Washington Post, ““Faith is like a flame. Properly tended, it gives light and warmth, but let loose, it can burn and destroy. We need, in the 21st century, a global Hanukkah: a festival of freedom for all the world’s faiths. For though my faith is not yours and your faith is not mine, if we are each free to light our own flame, together we can banish some of the darkness of the world..”
This Wednesday (December 16th), people in Bloomington-Normal are taking a stand to banish the darkness. Not in Our Town, along with several faith communities, are gathering together with the Muslim Community to show our support and solidarity. We need to say no to islamophobia. We need to look beyond labels, and meet our neighbors. In doing so, we can learn that Muslims, Christians, Jews, and others have far more in common than we have differences. We need to gather together in solidarity to reaffirm our commitment to peace. In doing so, we can show that there is no place for hatred or fear. We can pledge that our community is safe and welcoming for all. Join us at 6pm, on the steps of the the Old County Courthouse in Downtown Bloomington.
A salaam alaikum. Peace Be Unto You.