Across the country, interfaith groups rally to support refugees, immigrants, Muslims

In this time of fear, anxiety, and unrest, United Religions Initiative Cooperation Circles across the country are hosting events to promote interfaith dialogue and demonstrate support for refugees, immigrants and the American Muslim community. These three examples show what solidarity looks like and the true colors of humanity in these difficult times.

In Uptown Charlotte, North Carolina, 250 people gathered in a park one evening.

The participants and speakers were diverse — coming from all different faiths — but they came with a common goal: to stand in solidarity with one another and with the immigrants, refugees and Muslim communities.

URI member Saad Haq holds signs made by his children at a rally in Charlotte, North Carolina.
URI member Saad Haq holds signs made by his children at a rally in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The rally was organized by a local interfaith coalition, and members from the United Religions Initiative Cooperation Circle Being There participated. The rally was in response to a swell of fear and anxiety after an executive order signed by President Donald Trump ordered an immediate halt on all refugees, as well as citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. Though this executive order has been nullified by the courts, at least for now, there has been an incredible outpouring of support for Muslims and refugees across the country, especially groups of people from diverse faith backgrounds.

Saad Haq, participant and part of the organizing team, said one specific part of the rally was indicative of the entire event.

“During the rally, it was time for our [the Muslim] fourth prayer of the day. As we were praying, non-Muslims kept a wall and shield around us, which was extremely symbolic,” he said. “It was really great that people came together in solidarity.”

Citing the Prophet Muhammad’s Hijrah (journey) from Mecca to Medina to escape murder, Haq said he believes Muslims have an obligation to welcome refugees into this country.

Haq is a member of the United Religions Initiative (URI), the world’s largest grassroots interfaith network. At URI, we believe in the sanctity and inherent worth and dignity of every religion, spiritual expression and Indigenous tradition. Our goal is to promote interfaith cooperation around the world and to create cultures of peace, justice, and healing for the Earth and all living beings.

URI members in Johnson City, Tennessee, continued the solidarity, where another diverse group of people gathered on the campus of East Tennessee State University (ETSU). This group included local interfaith groups, community members, and ETSU students and professors.

Community members gathered at a unity rally in Charlotte, NC.
Community members gathered at a unity rally in Charlotte, NC.

Community members gathered at a unity rally in Charlotte, NC.Father Pete Iorio and Leila Al-Imad of the URI Northeast Tennessee Cooperation Circle were present at the event to show their support.  As followers of the Focolare movement, they have a strong commitment to social justice.  They cite Jesus’ Eight Beatitudes, which he gave at the Sermon on the Mount, as their inspiration  to fight for and show solidarity with immigrants and refugees.

Al-Imad was encouraged by the amount of support not only at this event, but at rallies all over the country.

“A hand can’t fly alone, and we need everyone to work with and energize us,” she said. “The community pulled together and people came out.”

While some rally in dramatic and emotional times like these, others need a trusted group to retreat with and discuss solutions for moving forward. The Southern California-based women’s Cooperation Circle, Spiritual and Religious Alliance for Hope, commonly known as SARAH, hosted a virtual red tent conference call for this kind of discussion.

At the Women’s March in Los Angeles, Hart organized a physical red tent, where female participants could enter and debrief with other women. This conference call was mean to create that same experience in a virtual space.

At this conference call, a council of Muslim women from Orange County spoke to participants, and Cooperation Circle leader, Sande Hart, went over a list of action items. A strong believer in the Golden Rule, she is committed to staying fierce and active in this fight.

“To our Muslim sisters: We are here, we are your protectors, we are standing in the light, facing the darkness, with a blazing torch of compassion, and we will not let any harm to come to you.  We are here to say “not in my house,”” she said in an interview before the event.

Despite the recent election and executive action on immigration, Hart has hope that our society is progressing.

“People are rising, people are finding their power. It has inspired folks to get up and look at the power of their voice, dollar, and vote,” she said. “We’ve been woken up, and the question is, ‘How do we stay woke?’ And what’s most important to us is that we do not perpetuate the same cycle of behavior that got us here in the first place — the us versus them mentality.”

Though the future of this particular executive order is unclear, interfaith organizers continue to recognize the imminent need to build bridges between people of different religions, spiritual expressions and Indigenous traditions. In the coming weeks and months, URI Cooperation Circles will host and participate in events to deepen dialogue and show support for immigrants, refugees and the American Muslim community in the coming weeks.

These are just a sampling of the many wonderful interfaith events that took place across the country, click here to read about the activities of other Cooperation Circles.

If you would like to get involved, click here to find the Cooperation Circle nearest you. You can also read the “Interfaith Toolkit: Responding to Executive Actions on Immigration & Refugee Resettlement” to find ideas and resources for a variety of ways to respond individually or as a group.

This piece was written by URI North America Storytelling Intern Ryan Polsky.

“Moving into All-Inclusiveness:” The Spiritual Heritage Education Network’s 7th Annual 2-Day Conference

 

The Spiritual Heritage Education Network, a URI North America Affiliate based out of Ontario, is getting ready to host their 7th annual 2-day SHeN* conference. This year’s conference theme is “Bringing Oneness to All” and highlights elements from certain practices that promote oneness, inclusion and the spirit of oneness.

Over the course of two days, panelists from a variety of faith traditions will draw from their experiences, expertise and practices to share tips for fully embodying the spirit of inclusion.

Click on the image below for an in-depth look at the agenda.

 

shen conference

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.

Virtual

“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.”

Arizona

  • 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.

California

  • 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.

Nevada

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.
Tennessee
  • 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.”

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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.