“I wish to welcome you and also seek your assistance in trying to join together and be able to dispel a lot of these unfortunate characterizations of the Muslim community,” said Imam Farid Ansari, to the crowd gathered inside the Islamic Center of Rhode Island in Providence. Ansair was speaking for the Rhode Island Council for Muslim Advancement, (RICMA).
The rise of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim violence across the country in response to recent terror attacks and political demagoguery has lead Muslim leaders in our state to make strong statements unequivocally condemning the terror attacks in Paris and the recent mass shooting in San Bernardino. Ansari said, “these acts are not representative of the Islamic faith…
“The backlash of these atrocious attacks have been felt deeply in the Muslim community nationwide. Inflammatory rhetoric as demonstrated by some politicians to isolate and marginalize American Muslims is reckless and undermines the safety and security of our great nation,” Ansari continued.
On a positive note, he said, “the American Muslim community in Rhode Island has unprecedented support from public officials, law enforcement, faith community and fellow citizens and we deeply appreciate this support.”
To counter this wave of mistrust, hatred and violence and because “we strongly believe that hate can only be countered by love and peace,” Ansari announced that, “we will be expanding our engagement with the Rhode Island community, to launch several social and educational programs across the state.”
These programs include an open house this Saturday from 1-3 at the Islamic Center, and continuing open houses at mosques throughout the state.
Other speakers took to the podium to denounce Islamophobia and to stand in solidarity with the Muslim community. Lutheran Bishop James Hazelwood lamented the way politicians have used the tragic recent events as an opportunity to divide rather to unite.
Jim Vincent of the NAACP says that his organization is “totally against the xenophobia that is happening in our country today.” Blaming all Muslims for the attacks in Paris or San Bernardino makes as much sense as blaming all Christians for the actions of the KKK, just because they use the cross as their symbol.
Episcopal Bishop Nicholas Knisely, said, “It’s important for us… to reject the voices calling for us to treat the people of one faith differently than all others.”
“Words have power,” said Rabbi Sarah Mack of the Greater Providence Board of Rabbis, “Our language can create good will and harmony in the community, or as we have sadly seen in recent weeks, our words can build mistrust, hatred and xenophobia.”
Dr. Wendy Ibraham of the Sisters Wing of RICMA, said that speaking for women Muslims is difficult, because they are such a diverse group. “Eighteen years ago, I decided to adopt a faith that believed in love and freedom and mercy and justice and kindness for all people, regardless of faith or ethnicity or color or creed… It’s important right now for Muslims to come forward and tell you what our religion is about.”
Toby Ayers, on behalf of the Rhode Island for Community and Justice and runs a youth program called Project Respect. In this program, “Young people become leaders in service to the mission of fighting bias, bigotry, and racism by promoting understanding between all races, religions and cultures through advocacy, conflict resolution and education.
Reverend Thomas Wiles, of the American Baptists channeled Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, who championed religious liberty and freedom of conscience.
“We continue to proclaim,” says Wiles, “that for faith to be true it must be free.”
Evangelical Pastor Andrew Mook advocated for a radical Christianity that embraces love and peace, even at the cost of one’s own life.
Last up was Reverend Donald Anderson, who decided to name the “elephant in the room,” Donald Trump. (That the elephant is the symbol of the Republican Party might be a subtle joke on Anderson’s part.)
“We are called, as faith leaders, to speak truth to power. So let’s do that. Mr Trump, we will not stand for your demagoguery that leads to discrimination. For those people who would follow him and his foolishness, those who would value temperament more than truth, audacity more than accuracy, let us say that love will win.”