Youth camp works to end bias, bigotry and racism: “Ten years ago, I had never met a Muslim.”

Camp Anytown

This piece was written by URI North America Storytelling Intern Robyn Lebron. You can read more of her work here

URI North America is thrilled to welcome one of our newest Cooperation Circles. We know that we are stronger together!

CAMP ANYTOWN  – Las Vegas, Nevada

  • Contact Person: Rico Ocampo, Program Director,  campanytownlv@hotmail.com
  • Mission Statement: Our mission statement is “To create communities based on inclusivity, respect, and understanding through youth leadership and empowerment.”
  • Areas of Focus: Youth, youth leadership development, youth diversity education
  • Website: www.anytownlv.org

“We value youth because Anytown works from the premise that we live in a multicultural society and that young people are the nation’s future. Therefore, youth need to be sensitized to the experiences of diverse groups if- as decision makers- they are expected to make fair judgments in improving the quality of life for the entire nation regardless of ability, ethnicity, faith/religion, and gender.”

When Rico Ocampo, Camp Anytown’s Program Director, first heard about URI, it was at a conference in San Diego.

“I didn’t have a full grasp of what URI was … it kinda blew my mind!” Ocampo went onto to add that, because of that experience, he now knows he can reach out to others and learn from their programs.

Continue reading “Youth camp works to end bias, bigotry and racism: “Ten years ago, I had never met a Muslim.””

Women’s Group Fosters Future Collaborations During Ramadan Season

As five panelists of different religious backgrounds discussed their traditions, women around the room at an iftar held in Syracuse, NY, began to latch onto the thread of commonality that brought them together.

The Women’s Iftar was the first of its kind organized by Women Transcending Boundaries, a URI Cooperation Circle and egalitarian community of women from different faith and cultural traditions that seeks to educate and serve their community. The shared iftar, a meal eaten by Muslims after sunset during Ramadan, was as much of a way to empower women in their community as it was to break fast.

Continue reading “Women’s Group Fosters Future Collaborations During Ramadan Season”

Breaking Bread More Powerful Than Hate in Countering Anti-Sharia Protests

Leaders in interfaith communities knew they had to meet protest with peace when the largest anti-Muslim grassroots organization in the U.S. announced demonstrations to take place on June 10.

“It was incredible to see the turnout [of counter-protesters] who were there to show solidarity,” said Kate Chance, interfaith coordinator at the Islamic Networks Group (ING), a nonprofit organization that counters bigotry through conversation and interfaith engagement. “I thought it was really peaceful as a whole,” she said of the Unity Rally she attended in San Jose, Calif.

Continue reading “Breaking Bread More Powerful Than Hate in Countering Anti-Sharia Protests”

Faith-based and humanist groups call on government to reaffirm American values

“Although the U.S. is a nation of immigrants and has a long history of welcoming refugees from diverse lands, we also have a history of different periods of xenophobia and exclusion, including the Chinese Exclusion Act, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, and the rejection of Jewish refugees from Nazi persecution and genocide. None of these actions made our country more secure, and we can be certain that the great majority of our people do not support a repeat of such episodes.”
—Maha Elgenaidi, Executive Director of the Islamic Networks Group

“Any attempt to ban Muslim refugees based on their religion betrays our values and sends the un-American message that there are second-class faiths. Our country, founded by immigrants who established religious freedom as a bedrock principle, is better than this. A threat to anyone’s religious liberty is a threat to everyone’s religious liberty, and we as Baptists stand with those facing religious persecution around the world, regardless of their faith.”
—Amanda Tyler, Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty

San Jose – The Know Your Neighbor: Multifaith Encounters campaign, a program of the Islamic Networks Group (ING), released the following statement today in reaction to executive orders signed by President Donald Trump restricting immigration from a number of Middle Eastern and African countries.

The executive orders issued today and earlier this week by President Donald Trump require us to reaffirm basic values that we share with the great majority of Americans:

  • Respect for diversity, pluralism, and religious freedom: Although the executive orders do not explicitly mention Muslims or their faith, several provisions target Muslims. As such, they violate the principles embodied in the First Amendment and our country’s commitment to religious neutrality.
  • Care for the stranger and the needy: Except for the native peoples, since its founding the United States has been a nation of immigrants. Our country has a long tradition of welcoming and supporting immigrants and the needy; the rejection of refugees fleeing horrific violence flies in the face of the obligation to help and the hospitality that the American people have traditionally shown to those in need.
  • Civil liberties: While these orders do not explicitly target particular groups, they clearly impact primarily one religion (Muslim) and one ethnicity (Latino). Singling out these groups reinforces and encourages existing prejudice and discrimination against them, including U.S. citizens and documented immigrants belonging to these groups.
    Unity and solidarity: Policies whose effect is to single out specific religious or ethnic groups violate the sense of national unity and solidarity that allows the diverse people of our nation to live in peace and harmony.

Although these measures purport to deal with the threat of terrorism, there is little evidence to support this claim. What they do, however, is to cast a dark cloud over the entire American Muslim population, making it all too clear that their significant contributions to American life are not welcomed. This impacts women in headscarves who have been the object of increased harassment and students in schools who have seen a rise in bullying in recent years due to anti-Muslim rhetoric which will increase with these policies. In response to the Executive Orders, we faith-based and humanist organizations call for an increase in:

Interfaith engagement, including both interfaith dialogues and events bringing people of diverse traditions together for mutual encounter and learning. To get started, see this page.
Education about Muslims and Islam, including presentations by Muslim speakers and “meet a Muslim” events in houses of worship or other public venues. To get started, see this page.
Commitment to and training in being “upstanders” who respond supportively to incidents of hate and bigotry.

This is a time to come together as a community and uphold our sacred values. Therefore, in responding to the current situation, and to prepare for possible actions in the future that may likewise call our fundamental values into question, we commit ourselves, and call on all who share our concerns, to respect the principle of nonviolence in thought, word, and deed.

We will maintain an attitude of charity and openness to all, including those with whom we most profoundly disagree. We will seek to understand their motivations and assume that they are sincerely seeking what is right unless presented with clear evidence to the contrary. If we are people of prayer, then we will pray for their well-being and for wisdom for them and for ourselves.
In our statements, we will condemn actions but not persons. We will speak firmly but respectfully of and with those whose words and actions we oppose.

Signed:

United Religions Initiative
alongside
ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal
Alliance of Baptists
Alliance for Shared Values
American Conference on Diversity
American Muslim Advisory Council
Arizona Jews for Justice
Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty
Bay Area Interfaith Connect
Bend the Arc Jewish Action
Bridges of Faith Trialogue, Cincinnati
California Institute for Human Science Interfaith Circle
Center for Inquiry
Church World Service
Colorado Muslim Speakers Bureau
Council of Islamic Organizations of Kentucky
Delaware Valley Speakers Bureau
Euphrates Institute
First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Palo Alto, California
Global Alliance Interfaith Networks
Global Immersion Project
Interfaith Alliance
Interfaith Arkansas
Interfaith Center at the Presidio
Interfaith Center of New York
Interfaith Council of Alameda County
Interfaith Council of Central Florida
Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, Ann Arbor
InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit
Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston
Interfaith Paths to Peace
Interfaith Youth Core
Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati
Islamic Education & Resources Network (ILearn)
Islamic Networks Group
Islamic Society of Greater Houston
Islamic Speakers Bureau of Alabama
Islamic Speakers Bureau of Arizona
Islamic Speakers Bureau of Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas
Islamic Speakers Bureau of Edmonton, Canada
Islamic Speakers Bureau of Greater Houston
Islamic Speakers Bureau of Saint Louis Islamic Speakers Bureau of San Diego
Islamic Speakers Bureau of Santa Barbara
Jewish Community Relations Council of the San Francisco Bay Area
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest
Marin Interfaith Council
Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue
Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light
Monmouth Center for World Religions and Ethical Thought
Muslim Coalition of Connecticut
Muslim Community Center, East Bay
National Council of Churches
National Sikh Campaign
Network of Spiritual Progressives
New Jersey Islamic Networks Group
Pacifica Institute
Pico Union Project
Religions for Peace USA
Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism
San Francisco Interfaith Council
Seattle Islamic Speakers Bureau
Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign
Silicon Valley Interreligious Council
Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom
South Coast Interfaith Council
Speakers Bureau of Nebraska
Spokane Interfaith Council
Tikkun Magazine
Tri City Interfaith Council
The United Church of Christ
United Religions Initiative
United We Dream Houston
Uri L’Tzedek: The Jewish Orthodox Social Justice Movement
Valley Beit Midrash: The Jewish Pluralistic Center
Washington Ethical Society
Welcoming Gainesville
Wisdom Circle Ministry
The Know Your Neighbor: Multifaith Encounters (KYN-ME) campaign is a program of the Islamic Networks Group (ING) whose mission is to increase religious literacy and build relations among Americans of all backgrounds. In pursuit of this mission, the KYN-ME campaign, which was first initiated in partnership with the White House in 2015, aims to build interreligious and intercultural understanding, empathy, and respect by promoting face-to-face encounter between people of diverse faiths and worldviews. Know Your Neighbor: Multifaith Encounters works to foster understanding and dialogue by encouraging Americans to get to “Know Your Neighbor.”

The Helpers are Working Together, Inshallah!

“What gives you #TangibleHope in the world today? How do your values and/or belief systems come into conversation with this #TangibleHope?

Anissa Abdel-Jelil, interfaith activist, artist, and URI North America Communications and Outreach Coordinator responds:

For as long as I can remember, my father would complete every sentence I said with the phrase “inshallah,” reminding me that everything I planned to do would get done with a little help from Allah – that is, if God willed it to happen.

I would say things like “I’m going to the store.” And he would say “Ghouli inshallah” (Say inshallah). “My flight gets in at 10 p.m.” And he would say “Ghouli inshallah.” It didn’t matter how big or small of a plan I was making, my father would tell me to say inshallah (God willing.)

So, when tragedy or struggles come, not only do I look for the helpers, as Mr. Rogers’ mother suggests, but I look for potential partners. I ask, “Who can I team up with to get the job done?”

For some, referencing the Divine in every sentence you say is a foreign concept or doesn’t resonate with their worldview. For me, it was a constant exercise in humility and a reminder that I have a partner with me at all times during my social change work – and that partner is Allah. So, when tragedy or struggles come, not only do I look for the helpers, as Mr. Rogers’ mother suggests, but I look for potential partners. I ask, “Who can I team up with to get the job done?”

Over the course of the past few weeks, hate crimes against marginalized groups have increased, natural disasters have devastated communities, and some law enforcement officers have not been held accountable for the violence they have inflicted on civilians. Needless to say there are enough injustices to leave us permanently frustrated and devastated. However, in those same weeks, I’ve witnessed strangers come together in person and online to build nonviolent coalitions to support those who are at the frontline of many of the social justice movements taking place in the United States.

In my experience, if I choose to see them, the helpers are out there and, if I look closer, I notice they’re working together. 

Friends and acquaintances have invited me to join capacity-building listservs, where folks share everything from best practices for effective community organizing to their own professional legal and health advice. It seems as though every scroll through Facebook introduces me to another crowdfunding campaign for an important cause, such as securing supplies for the water protectors that continue to camp at Standing Rock during the Winter and supporting those who were deeply affected by the fire in Oakland this past weekend. In my experience, if I choose to see them, the helpers are out there and, if I look closer, I notice they’re working together. 

Knowing that there are people out there whose skills complement mine and whose gifts are necessary to getting the job done gives me #TangibleHope. It teaches me that the social change necessary to make our communities healthier, happier and more just, can only be fostered in community and in partnership.

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anissaheadshotsmallphoto

Anissa Abdel-Jelil is the URI North America Communications and Outreach Coordinator. Her international and interfaith upbringing, paired with her academic journey, opened her eyes to the community-based peacebuilding work taking place all over the world and introducing her URI’s interfaith grassroots network. Based out of the San Francisco Bay Area, Anissa uses art as a tool for advocating for social justice. 

Every Tuesday, the #TangibleHope Diaries series features responses from North American grassroots peacebuilders on what gives them tangible hope in the world today! Learn more here.

 

The “Ask a Muslim” Series: A Space for Courageous Conversations

“Can Muslim women lead prayer?” “What is Sharia law?” Can you be gay and Muslim?”

These are but some of the questions Muslim panelists are asked during monthly Ask a Muslim gatherings co-hosted by The Markaz Arts Centre for the Greater Middle East, an Affiliate of The United Religions Initiative (URI) North America in Los Angeles.

Once a month, this collaboration with Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV), invites members of the public to listen to, and engage with, a diverse group of Muslims responding to a variety of prompts, such as “Islam 101,” “Women in Islam” and “LGBTQI and Islam.” Participants are encouraged to ask clarifying questions without the fear of feeling ignorant. Ask a Muslim seeks to counter the islamophobia presented in the mainstream US media by putting faces and stories to the life experiences of Muslims in the United States and beyond.

Co-organizer Jordan Elgrably, founder of The Markaz, describes these events as conversations and safe spaces that foster “an ongoing open dialogue for debate and understanding around today’s pressing questions about Islam.” The vision for this program came from a real need Jordan identified within his community and beyond.

“In this country, we don’t talk about race, religion, politics, with great depth – we need safe places for public conversations,” he said. “We need to peel away our onion layers with each other and talk honestly about our fears and confusion.”

Los Angeles is not the first place this series has taken place. This past summer, Ani Zonneveld, founder and director of MPV, brought Ask a Muslim to the Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva. During her time at the HRC, MPV hosted tables for passerbys to spend a moment with the Islamic scholars and Imams who traveled with MPV as part of their “ImamsForShe” initiative. This project facilitated meaningful, one-on-one connections between strangers and helped break down barriers that had previously existed between people.

The Ask a Muslim series employs the age-old peacebuilding tactic of using open and honest conversations as a tool for dismantling stereotypes and challenging implicit prejudices. It aims to change people’s hearts and minds about Muslims by creating a space where participants are encouraged to reach within themselves and ask what is truly on their mind – free of judgment from other participants.

All across the US and Canada, grassroots interfaith groups are making strides to break down these barriers and create safe spaces for the deep conversations of which Jordan speaks. The Love Your Muslim Neighbor panel discussions hosted by the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County CC facilitates crucial conversations, within a variety of church congregations, regarding some of the major misconceptions regarding Islam and Muslims, with up to 200 participants. Additionally, InterfaithWorks Cooperation Circle, based out of Syracuse, NY, hosts an Interfaith Dinner Dialogue series, wherein participants gather over a free meal to discuss questions posed by a facilitator and share their experiences regarding faith and spirituality with friends and strangers alike. Examples of such events continue with: Kashi Ashram Cooperation Circle, an interfaith intentional living community hosts “Listening Circles,” the Arizona Faith Network Cooperation Circle, hosts community discussions on local issues, their most recent one being on Environmental Racism, and the National Peace Academy‘s “Truth Telling Project” aimed at implementing and sustaining grassroots, community-centered truth-telling processes to share local voices, to educate America, and to support reconciliation for the purposes of eliminating structural violence and systemic racism against Black people in the United States.

By intentionally creating spaces conducive to open and honest dialogue, each of these initiatives creates opportunities for people, from a variety of different backgrounds, to show up, engage and take ownership of their learning.


Anissa

Anissa Abdel-Jelil joined the URI North America as the Communications and Outreach Coordinator in May 2016, after a seven-month fellowship with the organization. She brings with her a passion for social justice and storytelling. Her international and interfaith upbringing, paired with her academic journey, opened her eyes to the community-based peacebuilding work taking place all over the world. Her experiences in the fields of international human rights and humanitarianism, health, wellness and intercultural bridge building have equipped her with a hybrid lens for problem solving and clearly communicating complex information. Anissa’s combination of work and volunteer experience and language, graphic design and social media skills will allow her to make a meaningful contribution to the URI North America team. Throughout her time with us, she hopes to emulate the creativity and resilience she sees throughout URI’s network.

jordan picJordan Elgrably is an award-winning social entrepreneur, producer, writer, editor & the founding director of The Markaz, Arts Center for the Greater Middle East, in Los Angeles. A curator and producer of public programs, Jordan is of Moroccan and French heritage. He has been passionately committed to strengthening Arab/Muslim/Christian and Jewish relations for many years. In addition to The Markaz, which he co-founded in 2001 as the Levantine Cultural Center, he founded the New Association of Sephardi/Mizrahi Artists & Writers International in 1996 and Open Tent Middle East Coalition in 1999. He was a producer for the Dalai Lama’s World Festival of Sacred Music in 1999, 2002 and 2005. As well, he has launched several original initiatives, among them the Sultans of Satire: Middle East Comic Relief; Beirut-LosAngeles.org; CelebratePalestine.org; and New Voices in Middle Eastern Cinema, with funding from the Golden Globes/Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Jordan attended the American University of Paris (formerly ACP) and was based for a number of years in Paris and Madrid, where he worked as a journalist and associate producer for TF1. His essays, articles and stories have appeared in many anthologies and periodicals. He is a member of PEN Center, the international advocacy organization for writers and journalists, the Los Angeles Press Club, and the Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association. In 2008, the L.A. Weekly featured Jordan Elgrably in its People of the Year issue and he received the Local Hero Award from the Foundation for World Arts and Culture; in 2011 and 2014, he was an Annenberg Alchemy Fellow; in 2013 and 2015 he was nominated for the James Irvine Leadership Award. In 2014 he received an American Express Award and in 2015, the Rachel Corrie Conscience and Courage Award from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. He is a 2016 Ariane de Rothschild Foundation Fellow. Jordan lives near San Luis Obispo with his wife and son.

ani picAni Zonneveld is founder and President of Muslim for Progressive Values (MPV). Since its inception, Ani has presided over MPV’s expansion to include chapters and affiliates in 12 countries and  19 cities. She has organized numerous interfaith arts and music festivals, participated in many interfaith dialogues and is a strong supporter of human rights and freedom of expression. She is the brainchild of Literary Zikr – a project that counters radical Islam on-line and co-editor of MPV’s first book, an anthology titled “Progressive Muslim Identities – Personal Stories from the U.S. and Canada”; she has contributed to many forewords and numerous anthologies too many to list; is a contributor for HuffingtonPost, OpenDemocracy and al-Jazeera, and recently gave her TEDx talk titled – Islam: As American As Apple Pie; and the subject of a documentary title “al-imam” featuring Ani’s activism works. As an award winning singer/songwriter, she utilizes the power of music and the arts in countering radicalism as she speaks-sings her message of social justice and peace from a progressive Muslim woman’s perspective, and is the first woman to release an English Islamic popalbum in the U.S. in 2004. Born and raised Muslim from Malaysia and based out of Los Angeles, Ani spent a good portion of her formative years raised in Germany, Egypt and India as an Ambassador’s daughter. Her exposure to different politics, religions and cultures has shaped her inclusive worldview.