A Requiem of Hope


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

Shirin Ganji, Member of the Newmarket and Area Interfaith Council


Verily, with hardship comes ease (Qur’an 94:5)

In my faith, I am reminded that misfortune is only a challenge of your character, and that there is rarely any difficulty that is not followed by relief. However, when faced with adversity, hope becomes questionable. It becomes the product of a constant self-struggle of whether to move forward or remain stagnant. But most of all, in any given moment it can be conjured up and it can be temporary.

However permanent or fleeting hope may be, it is, above all, empowering. In my experience, it has assisted me through moments of grief and distress.

Recently, I was on a road trip to Las Vegas, in which my purse with all my belongings including my passport, driver’s license, health card, SIN card, and credit cards were all stolen. Instantly, the desire for adventure came to an abrupt end, shrouding the night with concern and worry as I had a return flight to catch the next day. My friends accompanied me through this turn of events, and assisted me in every possible way. They inspired me to find hope in the matter and aided me in all the necessary procedures about reporting a stolen passport.

After searching all night, and slowly losing confidence in the search, they held my hands and each prayed with me for my safe return home. We each came from different backgrounds and belief systems but regardless, it ignited a beautiful expression of intent. It calmed me down, and deep in my heart everything felt like it was going to all wrap up nicely.

I retrieved a temporary passport from the Canadian embassy and managed to board a domestic flight to San Francisco, only to be faced with another road block. The airline had told me that, in order to go home, I was going to have to wait a day and cash up $2000. Out of fear of not being able to afford the trip back home I broke into tears in the middle of Union Square.

While sobbing in public, a homeless man from across the street made his way to the flower booth just outside the subway and purchased a flower. He offered me the flower and said: “Please don’t cry, everything will work out. I promise.” A man who seemed to have nothing consoled me in an attempt to spark optimism amidst a seemingly dark situation. I thanked him dearly, hopped on the train and called my booking company to get on the next plane to Toronto. Eventually, everything worked out! I got back home safely, and a month later, to my surprise, the Las Vegas airport sent me my purse with all of my belongings, as someone had returned it to the airport.

Throughout this experience, my hope was cultivated by the friends and strangers, from different identities, who supported me in my time of need. The questions of what I believe and who I believe in is left out of the equation. This is what inspires hope in me and in humanity: when we focus on the problems in front of us, and learn to lend a hand to every person who needs it.

What gives me tangible hope today is the collaboration between different faith groups and communities assisting each other in times of chaos and turmoil. Just as I was offered assistance through my journey, others require the same kind of treatment. Acknowledgement of this cause already insinuates a certain degree of awareness and how important it is to spread hope around the world.


Shririn Ganji is the co-founder of the Undergraduate Religious Studies Student Association, geared toward historical understanding of different religions and a more practical understanding of how religion is integrated in the public sphere. She received an Honors B.A from the University of Toronto, specializing in World Religions and Philosophy. She derives most of her inspiration learning about the various religions and cultures that exist in the world, and how many of these traditions are linked, and intertwined together.

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


What’s Love Got To Do With Dismantling Islamophobia?

What’s Love Got To Do With Dismantling Islamophobia?


Islamophobia in the United States is not new. However, studies compiling FBI data, such as the one conducted by Georgetown’s Bridge Initiative, state that, today, U.S Muslims are five times more likely to be the victim of a hate crime than they were before 9/11 – a startling statistic, to say the least. For Rev. Will McGarvey and the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County (ICCCC), a United Religions Cooperation Circle, the antidote to this fear and hate based sentiment is simultaneously simple and complex: love.

 In a conversation with Rev. Will McGarvey, he reminded me that more than half of Americans who say they hate Muslims have never actually met a Muslim. The Reverend and his colleagues have set out to change this statistic, by implementing a“Love Your Muslim Neighbors” program in California’s San Francisco Bay Area, where “loving” your Muslim neighbor is not passive, but rather an active commitment.

Over the course of nine “Love Your Muslim Neighbor” events held at a variety of different Christian congregations, the ICCCC has initiated and facilitated crucial discussions on some of the major misconceptions regarding Muslims, with up to 200 participants. The interreligious exchanges vary from panel discussions hosted by American Muslims of different ethnicities, religious sects, gender identities, and so on, to more intimate and informal conversations where non-Muslim community members voice curiosities they have always had but have never known how or whom to ask.

Changing the hearts and minds of people is no easy feat – but it can be done. At one of the events, a community member shared that she feared all American Muslims wanted to implement Sharia Law. However, upon engaging with her Muslim neighbors at one of these events, she realized her information sources had completely misled her.

“It took meeting a real Muslim, or a few of them, to understand that there’s an Islamophobia industry in our culture that perpetuates these lies about Muslims,” said Rev. Will McGarvey.

The “Love Your Muslim Neighbor” events are just one of the many ways URI Cooperation Circles and other interfaith peacebuilders across Canada and the United States are creatively and impactfully invoking the type of change that is most difficult to sustain: change within hearts and minds.

The list of solidarity events is heartwarmingly long and includes programming, such as the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council‘s “Hands Around the Mosque” gathering, which brought over 250 community members together to demonstrate solidarity with their Muslim neighbors, the Interfaith Center at the Presidio‘s panel discussion: Political and Religious Extremism: Creating an Effective Response, the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative‘s recent partnership with “Standing Alongside America’s Muslims” and the Sun Devils are Better Together‘s continuous “Meet a [Insert Faith Tradition]” campaign promoting interreligious relationships, among many others.

Sun Devils Are Better Together
© Sun Devils Are Better Together

Moving forward, Rev. Will McGarvey hopes to partner with other places of worship, particularly Masjids (mosques), so that relationships among community members can deepen and the program’s reach can expand.

If you are interested in hosting, collaborating with, or learning more about “Love Your Muslim Neighbor,” contact Rev. Will McGarvey with the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County by emailing eye4cee[at]gmail.com. For more information on the program, click here and to watch a “Love Your Muslim Neighbor” panel discussion, click here.

Written by Anissa Abdel-Jelil, URI North America’s Communications and Outreach Coordinator.

Cooperation Circles Take Action To Support Muslim Communities

Cooperation Circles Take Action To Support Muslim Communities

Members of Sun Devils Are Better Together discuss refugees and the refugee crisis.

In light of the recent rise in Islamaphobic rhetoric, several Cooperation Circles in the United States are taking action to support the Muslims in their communities. URI North America has started a social media campaign using the hashtag #ThisIsWhoWeAre to elevate the positive stories of people all over the world living together in peace. You can view the photo essay here and support the campaign by adding the #ThisIsWhoWeAre hashtag to your own photos.


“We are concerned with the escalating, corrosive anti-Muslim rhetoric whipping up Europe and the United States particularly,” the group said. “We believe that authoritative voices are so needed right now.”

Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, president of the Charter’s Board of Directors; Imam Malik, Board President of the Parliament for World Religions; and Sari Heidenreich, North American Regional Cresident for United Religions Initiative  all spoke on the topic of  “Turning our Moral Outrage into Compassionate Action.”


  • In early December, members of Sun Devils Are Better Together joined with members of the First Congregational UCC in Phoenix to discuss refugees and the refugee crisis.


  • The Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County (ICCCC) has kickstarted a “Love Your Muslim Neighbors” program in which they will offer panel conversations with a variety of Muslims speaking about their own experiences to educate congregations and neighbors.

Their hope is to encourage every Masjid (house of prayer) to host Open Houses so community members can get to know, as well as build relationships with, their Muslim neighbors.  They currently have two scheduled in January. You can contact Rev. Will McGarvey at eye4cee@gmail.com if you would like more information or are interested in hosting such a panel conversation.

  • The Marin Interfaith Council (MIC) encouraged its members to engage with their Muslim neighbors by sending letters of support to the Islamic Centers and Muslim nonprofits in their community.

“I can assure you these letters will be shared with the entire community at appropriate times of their gatherings,” said MIC Executive Director Rev. Carol Hovis. ” Finally, I encourage all of us to not be strangers, and find times and opportunities to physically visit one of our 3 Muslim communities and participate in a time of prayer or other such gathering.”

“Current attempts to isolate and demonize our Muslim sisters and brothers violate our common beliefs, indeed our American ideals, and cannot and must not be allowed to prevail,” the group said in a statement.

“We are distressed to hear how our Muslim friends and neighbors are living in fear, and even more distressed to hear of harassment, abuse, and attacks that have actually taken place,” the statement read. “We stand together with them and join them in condemning those who would hijack Islam for their own purposes.”

SiVIC will participate in an event on December 16, organized by local Muslim communities, to stand in solidarity with the families of the victims of the San Bernadino shooting. The Muslim Community Association, South Bay Islamic Association, Evergreen Islamic Center, Blossom Valley Muslim Community Center and many San Francisco Bay Area Mosques will gather at the Muslim Community Association in Santa Clara.

  • Members of SARAH and Culver City Interfaith Alliance Cooperation Circles attended an interfaith rally honoring the religious diversity of Southern California in Los Angeles on Sunday, December 13. The show of solidarity took place on the steps of the Los Angeles City Hall, in communion with the Mayor of San Bernardino, the Mayor of Los Angeles and local faith leaders.
  • Unity-and-Diversity World Council, along with roughlty 20 co-sponsoring organziations, gathered on December 12 for their annual Interfaith Celebration of light. This year’s theme was “Reverence For Life,” which each of the co-sponsors spoke about during a time of sharing.


Photo Credit: Las Vegas Sun
Photo Credit: Las Vegas Sun
  • The Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada joined the Muslim community of Las Vegas for a prayer vigil for the innocent victims of violence in both the East and the West. The event took place at the Jamai Masjid in Las Vegas on December 13 and was covered by the Las Vegas Sun. This violence, they said, is causing subsequent fear and hateful backlash towards American Muslims.

“When violent perpetrators want to induce fear, hate, and scorn, we all must reject violence in the name of religion. We must increase our efforts as faith communities and people of principles to determine our own future and hold ourselves to live up to our professed ideals as practitioners of our respective and constitutionally protected faiths,” they said in an email.

  • The Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada is also joining with a budding movement of entitled “No Violence in the Name of Religion” (NVNR) to sponsor a community dinner. The NVNR movement is an effort started by the Muslim community “to challenge the violence being perpetrated in the name of our religion, and religion in general.” Read more here.
  • The URI Northeast Tennessee Chapter Cooperation Circle is running a half page ad in the Johnson City Press newspaper to voice their support for the Muslim neighbors and refugees. You can read the letter, signed by over 100 community members, here.
  • Dozens gathered on the steps of the Washington County Courthouse in Tennessee on December 20 to show respect for their Muslim neighbors and stand up for religious freedom in the midst of the current state of tensions.

“We are standing witness to the respect of our Muslim neighbors that contibute so much to the community and bring so much richness,” said Rev. Jacqueline Luck, member of theURI Northeast Tennessee Chapter Cooperation Circle. ” And, also, we’re standing up for freedom of religion because it’s very important that Muslims are allowed, as everybody else, to worship as they want to.”

Luck said the rally was spurred by the amount of hateful rhetoric, misinformation and fear mongering that’s going on in the US.

“We wanted to just be a positive witness to the good,” she said.

The rally was highlighted in an article by Jessica Fuller in the Johnson City Press. One of her photos is to the left and you can read her article here.

Washington, DC
  • On December 20, three hosting communities of The Walk DC will open their doors for a pilgrimage walk to “reconfirm their commitment to supporting the Good of humanity, and offer encouragement and Light to all.”

The walk will start at the Washington Hebrew Congregation, move to the National Cathedral and commence at the Islamic Center of Washington. At each site, there will be a call to prayer, short scripture reading, and brief reflection. The event will start at 2 pm and center around the theme of “Faith over Fear, Unity over Extremism.”


If you’re looking for inspiration, with toolkitstoolcards, sample social media posts and graphics, the Talking Back To Hate campaign has a robust library of resources and ideas for taking positive action in response to hate. The Charter for Compassion has also just published an Islamophobia Resource Guide. In response to requests from Cooperation Circles to mobilize action, URI Co-Director of Global Programs Sally Mahe put together a few ideas. Click here to read these ideas and share your own! You can also read her 2010 guide on Responding to Hostilities Against Faith Communities.

Has YOUR Cooperation Circle taken action to respond to the rising Islamaphobia in recent weeks? If so, please share in the comments below or email us at northamerica@uri.org.