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.

Canadian Cooperation Circle Organizes Conference on “Navigating Peace Through Faith.”

Peace Making and Peace Building Through Faith

By Acharya S.P.Dwivedi

Peace Making and Peace Building Through Faith

The United Nation’s General Assembly has made several  important resolutions against discrimination based on race, gender, color and ethnic orientation; injustice, violence and terrorism to  create and peaceful environment on earth. The October, 2010 resolution set a new trend in promoting interfaith peace building by declaring the first week of the year to be celebrated as a World Interfaith Harmony Week. This provides a platform to all interfaith  and faith organizations, institutions and groups   to enhance  dialogue, cooperation and interaction among themselves towards creating  respect, understanding, love and harmony to each other faiths; and  even people of without faith. Since then during the first week of February all around the world conferences, prayers,  peace- walk, art-musical fair and celebrations are organized to develop harmony and sustainable world peace.

The Global Clergy Association of Canada (GCAOC), a URI Cooperation Circle, provided the leadership in Metro Vancouver  in organizing the interfaith conferences since 2011. This year the conference was jointly arranged by GCAOC (GCAOC) and North Wood United Church  of Surrey on February 6, Multifaith Action Society also supported the event. The theme of the conference was-“Navigating Peace Through Faith.” Representatives  of ten faiths  presented their faith perspective on the theme.

Rev. William Thomas Sparks  being the host offered the opening prayer  and Dr. J. Das, president of GCAOC welcomed the guests. Acharya S.P.Dwivedi acted as MC and moderator of the conference. He invited  the  faith panelist alphabetically. Liv Anita Dahl  (Baha’i) emphasized on friendship, respect and exploring each other faith;  Lama Tse Wang ( Buddhism) said that  traditions are different but goal is the same and that we should share experiences of faith; Rev. Scott Reynold (Christianity) focused on love for neighbor and teaching and healing; G.S.Singhai (Jainism) thought that non-violence is the only way to attain peace , and harmony; Rabbi David Mivasair (Judaism) felt that we should try to learn from others stories and experiences; Acharya Dwivedi (Hindu Bodhidharma)  advocated for equality, oneness of all and practice of spirituality  in establishing peace.

Dr. J. Das said , “We should ignore external labels and strengthen our inner consciousness to promote peace while Rev. Susan Kerr (Scientology) suggested, “Tolerance and respect  needed for open faith dialogue.” Sukh Johal (Sikh faith) told, “Peaceful  interfaith cooperation is only possible  through  respect, openness and love for others” and Firdosh Mehta ( Zoroastrian) found that peace can be attained through- Right action, and meditation.

Rev. Sparks was honored with  an Indian tradition – Pitaambar(Shawl) by  Dr. Das and Acharya Dwivedi.

Rev. Will T. Sparks offered the closing peace prayer in which everyone joined him. The guests were entertained, at the end, with refreshment.

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.

After Chapel Hill shooting, respond with peace

On this tragic day, we mourn with the families of Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha and send our prayers to their families, the Chapel Hill community and all those affected by this loss.

(L-R) Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were shot dead near the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Feb. 10, 2015. Photo from Al Jazeera.
(L-R) Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were shot dead near the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Feb. 10, 2015. Photo from Al Jazeera.

Yesterday, three Muslim students, a husband, wife and her sister, were shot and killed near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While police have not confirmed the accused killer’s motive, speculation that this was a hate crime has already begun to arise.

As we respond to this tragedy, Sam Wazan, URI Global Council Trustee for North America and member of the URI of Charlotte Cooperation Circle, urges us to speak words of peace and take positive action.

He calls to mind something he wrote following the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013:

“Refrain from the inhumane desires of articulating thoughts of vengeance. Our children must not grow institutionalized by a history of suffering, but an outlook of harmony for all living beings of all faiths, ethnicities and dispositions.”

Whether the killer in this case was motivated by religion, this is a moment to recognize that violence is not the answer, said Sandy Westin, a member of the URI of Henderson County Cooperation Circle.

“This is a not a solution for anything. Shooting is always lamentable, killing is always lamentable,”
she said. “This is something that tell us we need to remember who we are, to change our paths and reactions to encourage others in the way of peace.”

It is the mission of United Religions Initiative “to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing.” We are the world’s largest grassroots interfaith organization with more than 665 Cooperation Circles in 85 countries working for peace.

Talking Back to HateDuring this time of grief, let us seek to create interreligious dialogue within our own communities. A few ideas, including ones from the URI Talking Back to Hate toolkit and toolcard:

  • Get involved with a Cooperation Circle in your area that is promoting interfaith dialogue.
  • Organize an interfaith service project.
  • Interview community members from different religious and ethnic backgrounds on what they love about being a _________ (Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Jew, multi-racial person, recent immigrant, transgendered person, etc.).
  • Do something nice for a person you know who has been the victim of bullying or harassment.
  • Invite community and religious leaders from different traditions to join you in preparing a thoughtful, united response to an act of hate.
  • Host a dinner that celebrates the religious and ethnic diversity of your community.
  • Initiate a campaign to celebrate and raise awareness of the different religious and cultural holidays of the year. A great resource for this can be found at: http://www.uri.org/browse_resources/religious_observances.
  • Start a campaign in your community similar to the I’ll Ride With You initiative in Australia in which strangers offered to ride on public transportation with anyone who didn’t feel safe.

“Let us continue to speak out against such hate,” said URI Executive Director Victor Kazanjian. “Let us redouble our efforts to dispel stereotype and prejudice and teach understanding and respect. Let us stand together against violence and particularly religiously motivated violence, and for justice and peace. We weep for these young people whose lives have been cut short. We must remember them always and be inspired by their lives as we continue our work.”

If you are interested in getting involved in creating cultures of peace in your community, please contact North American Regional Coordinator, Sari Heidenreich and she’ll do her best to connect you with a local group. If you are already involved in interfaith work, but your organization is not a member of URI, we invite you to contact us as well.

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URI North America - Slideshow
URI North America - Slideshow

URI – Cooperation Circles (CCs)

North America Cooperation Circles Building Interfaith Peace Together. The CCs are the heart of URI. Independent, self-governing and self-funding, they build cooperation among people of all faiths and traditions…

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About URI-NA

Join URI North America

URI North America

The Birth of URI

“If the nations of the world are working together for peace through the UN, then how can the religions of the world be brought together for a similar purpose?” From this inspiration beginning in 1995, a vision took shape to create a grassroots organization whereby people of diverse faiths from all sectors of society would cooperate to build peace and justice for all. Between 1996 and 2000, people from diverse religions, spiritual expressions and indigenous traditions worked together to create the URI Charter. Today, thousands of people around the world bring their unique talents to URI to create profound actions of care, compassion, cooperation, education, and peacebuilding. Learn more about the global URI organization by visiting www.URI.org.

The Heart of URI

At the heart of URI is a global network of locally organized “Cooperation Circles,” or CCs. Each CC is a local or virtual group that includes at least 7 members representing at least 3 different religions, spiritual paths or indigenous traditions. CCs organize around local needs and visions in accordance with the Preamble, Purpose and Principles of URI. These grassroots organizations are supported and served by eight URI regions around the globe, of which North America is one.

URI in North America

The North America region of URI, which includes the United States and Canada. There are currently about fifty CCs in our region, the majority located on the continent’s east and west coasts. Current initiatives for the NA region include:

•    Improving communication and networking opportunities for CCs in North America.
•    Increasing overall awareness of the United   Religions Initiative across North America.
•    Expanding participation and networking in URI throughout the US and Canada.

In 2009, a Leadership Council was formed from members of URI CCs to serve in guiding the development of a region-wide organization intended to provide support for the growth and strengthening of URI throughout North America. Since then, the region has established itself as a corporation and has been approved as a tax-exempt 501(c)3 charitable organization by the US Internal Revenue Service.   


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