Today’s blog is by Eboo Patel and Samantha Kirby.
Wednesday night in New York, four Muslim men were arrested for a plot to bomb two synagogues in the Bronx, NY, and shoot down military planes at an Air National Guard base. They were quoted in newspapers as saying they wanted to “commit jihad” and that “if Jews were killed in this attack…that would be all right.”
About three weeks ago, in New York, a Muslim man, Imam Shamsi Ali, gave a talk at the Free Synagogue in Queens about the “Essence of Islam” during an interfaith Holocaust remembrance service. After the talk, he engaged in a dialogue with Rabbi Michael Weisser, who said “Imam Ali and I share a common vision of a world in which people of all traditions will come to consider themselves as family working together to build a more harmonious world.”
Which one of these stories do we want to tell our kids?
The story of how several repeat-offenders, (one of whom made statements on Islam that “often had to be corrected” according to an assistant Imam), took a twisted version of Islam and aspired to commit violent acts in its name?
Or the story of how Jewish and Muslim communities are coming together to learn from one another and ensure that one of the most horrific acts of the 20th century should never be repeated?
Or better yet – how can we transform the first story into the second story?
This is one job of an interfaith leader.
The way that communities react to events like the one that happened Wednesday night can change the story. Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), immediately came out with the following statement: “We repeat the American Muslim community’s repudiation of bias-motivated crimes and of anyone who would falsely claim religious justification for violent actions.”
Mayor Bloomberg said “Most people in New York City want to live together, work together, and I think we’re as safe today as we’ve ever been before.”
The first important steps have been taken: national and community leaders are speaking out against this act, refuting the religious claims of the would-be attackers and reassuring the community that the majority of people want nothing more than to live and work together in peace.
Now the next steps must be taken. Interfaith leaders must step up and work to ensure that relationships between the Jewish and Muslim communities, bonds we know exist from other events such as the Holocaust remembrance service, are maintained. They should create forums for discussion on how to keep their community safe, and talk about how to process events like these. They must host dialogues to better understand one another and the shared values among their different faith traditions, then organize service events to act on these values and better their common community.
One way to start this process is to take direct public action. In Chicago after September 11, a mosque received threats of violence against anyone entering the building. This mosque had existed for years in the community, and the Muslims who prayed there had built relationships with their Jewish and Christian neighbors. Because these communities realized that an attack on any one group is an attack on everyone, they stood vigil around the mosque during afternoon prayers to ensure that the Muslim community could pray in peace.
No matter what activities community leaders in the Bronx may choose, they should work towards one end – the end that can transform the 21st century into an era of interfaith cooperation instead of the era of global terror.
They must build bridges.