Today, I stand with my Muslim neighbors. As a pastoral leader in the Christian tradition and of a Christian congregation, as a leader in my community, I speak out publicly that I stand with my Muslim neighbors and colleagues.
Over the weekend, I’ve seen and read too many stories of Muslims being persecuted, being frightened to go out for fear of harassment, and of church and civic leaders making discriminatory statements about all Muslims on the basis of the horrible actions of radicalized people.
I should note as an aside, that though the perpetrator in the Charleston Mother Emmanuel Church shootings last June was a member of an ELCA Lutheran Church (the denomination in which I serve as a pastor) never once was I called on to defend my faith over against that killing or to distance myself from the shooter. It grieves me to know that my Muslim neighbors are now called on to do that thing they should not have to do.
Over the past 10 years in our broad-based community organizing work (DuPage United) here in DuPage County, Illinois, Muslim mosques and associations and people associated with those institutions have been valued colleagues and partners in our work. I have gotten to know many of my Muslim neighbors; they are people of peace who are concerned with justice and who are loyal fellow citizens of the United States.
We have worked together on concrete issues that matter to our community: government accountability, workforce development, mental health, accountability in our local community college administration, and affordable housing, to name a few.
On several occasions, a Muslim brother or sister has spoken in our congregation, either in worship or in our adult faith formation. They have participated reverently and appropriately in our worship, demonstrating a respectful curiosity for what we believe and how we practice our faith. When they spoke to our adult group, my colleague Ahmed did not avoid the difficult questions some of our folks asked about the treatment of women in Islam, the notion of jihad, and questions about Islam as a religion of peace.
In 2005 when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, we launched a project to fill a semi-truck trailer with food and other supplies needed by those displaced because of the hurricane. While we received a consistent trickle of support from local Christian congregations, it was the Muslim girls’ school in Lombard who appeared one afternoon with a rented van and a couple of minivans filled to the brim with supplies they had collected from their institutions.
In late 2011 and early 2012, MECCA, an association of Muslims, purchased land and made plans to build a mosque and community center in the southwest corner of our county. In response, the County Planning and Zoning Commission began proposing a number of restrictions that would have prevented the construction from going forward. Several Christian congregations — partners in DuPage United — appeared before county meetings on behalf of MECCA. In the end, the restrictions were not enacted, permits were granted, and construction was able to begin. As a sign of their gratitude, they asked me to be the speaker for their groundbreaking ceremonies. It would have made so much sense to ask one of their own to speak and for me to attend as an honored guest. Yet, they asked me to speak. That was an extraordinarily generous gesture.
I could go on with story after story of my own life and ministry being enriched by the gift and blessing of being able to work together with Muslim partners. The relationships I have formed have been meaningful and mutual. I am a better person and pastor for having had the opportunity to work with them.
I am saddened, disappointed, and angry that these fellow American citizens are experiencing persecution because of misunderstanding of Islam and the fear of the other. I cannot control what others do or say. But I can make sure that my voice of support, admiration, and respect is heard in the public square.
Today — and every day — I stand with my Muslim brothers and sisters.