At Interfaith Gathering, Affirmation of Support for Muslims, Minorities

At Interfaith Gathering, Affirmation of Support for Muslims, Minorities

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SAN JOSE, Calif. -- "If you want peace, work for justice. That includes housing the homeless, ending the death penalty, organizing labor unions, standing up for minority rights, and countering rising Islamophobia in the U.S.”

So said Dublin-born San Jose Diocese Bishop Patrick J. McGrath, leader of over 50 Catholic churches in Santa Clara County, and the prime mover behind the Catholic-Muslim dialogue held at the Shia Association of the Bay Area (SABA) Center on MLK day, January 16.

Bishop McGrath quoted MLK to make his point: “Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

Speaking to an overflow audience of about 500 Christians and Muslims, he reminded them that “Xenophobia has always been a part of America’s social and political landscape ... But we have much more in common than what divides us. Both the Bible and the Quran list mercy and justice as foremost divine attributes. I ask each one of you to use your light to replace the darkness of hate.”

Aurora Solis, a Latina leader with San Jose-based ‘People Acting in Community Together’ (PACT) spoke of a co-worker who told her, “I am a Muslim. I am scared. What will happen to me and my family?” Her response: “I will be with you. My friends and I will register as Muslims if it comes to that. We will work with Muslims so we can become better Christians.”

Tahir Anwar, an Imam and a long-time Bay Area activist, spoke passionately of the Golden Rule, a common theme that unites the major religions of the world: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

He also urged those in the audience to "make a habit of visiting synagogues, churches, mosques and other places of worship," adding,  “Islamophobia poses a threat not just for Muslims but for everyone. If our phones are tapped, yours will be too, sooner or later. The Quran says we will have some good days and some not-so-good days. That is life. But if we work together, we will overcome.”

Imam Tahir narrated how he travels separately from his family when returning to the U.S. from a trip abroad. “I am questioned at such length and harassed by immigration and law-enforcement officials that I try to spare my children the humiliation I am often subjected to when I return to my country. So they travel a day or two before I do.”

Speaker after speaker reminded us of the importance of extending hospitality to strangers, not to be haughty but to associate with the lowly, the sick, the disabled, the unemployed and the underemployed, to cherish our diversity, to overcome evil with good, to not suffer injustice with silence but to engage in non-violent activism that can change the world for the better.

There is a moral momentum growing across America. On January 21, the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, an estimated 200,000 women are expected to participate in the Women’s March on Washington. On a smaller scale, this symbolic march will be enacted in cities throughout America, including San Jose, Oakland and San Francisco.

As in other cities, too, San Jose city leaders recently approved a campaign to create sanctuary places in schools and churches were deportation sweeps may occur, while Santa Clara County supervisors allocated about $1.5 million over two years to provide legal aid for undocumented workers in danger of deportation.

On a personal level, it also struck me forcefully how easily Shias and Sunnis prayed, listened and shared meals together at this event, as we have been doing for all the decades we have been in the Bay Area. I am a Sunni because I was born into a Sunni family, and I find no hindrance to my visiting Shia mosques to pray when it is convenient to do so. Same goes for Shias who pray at our mosque at the Evergreen Islamic Center when it is convenient for them.

Contrast this with the terrible sectarian conflicts that plague some of the world’s Muslim countries in which Sunnis kill Shias with terrifying regularity and Shias retaliate in kind. It is clear that Muslim countries are in far greater need of Intrafaith, rather than Interfaith, events. We Muslim-Americans must find a way to play a larger role in eliminating the deadly sectarian conflicts between Sunnis and Shias.

The backdrop of the stage where the religious leaders sat at the SABA Center on MLK Day contained these words of Imam Ali (601-661), son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad: “Man is either your brother in faith, or your equal in humanity.”

These are MLK's words too, and the words of America's founding fathers, even if expressed differently. MLK's "fierce urgency of now" has taken on a significance no conscientious American can ignore without eroding the fundamental values that make us who we are as a nation.