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By Maha Elgenaidi, ING Executive Director, and Michael Pappas, San Francisco Interfaith Council Executive Director.
This opinion originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Every day, millions of Americans of all faiths and none give thanks for our Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom. And when the news turns dark and violence leads the headlines, we reach out across religious lines, building friendships and partnerships as a bulwark against that darkness.
When we do this, we deny criminals like the Islamic State the division and discord that they crave. Responding to their hatred and terror and ignorance with love and increased cooperation starves them of the only fuel that can legitimize their power: fear.
But the Islamic State is stubborn. As Christians around the world observed Palm Sunday earlier this month, powerful bomb blasts struck packed Coptic Christian churches in Egypt in an assault claimed by the Islamic State. The timing and brutality of the attacks were particularly shocking, as they violated both the sanctity of Christian houses of worship and a holy day as well.
Islamic Networks Group and the San Francisco Interfaith Council joined Muslims, people of all faiths and leaders across the world not only to swiftly and vigorously condemn these attacks but also to reaffirm the long relationships and the commonalities among Christians, Jews and Muslims affirmed by many Quranic verses and the behavior of the prophet Muhammad.
The Islamic tradition of respect for religious pluralism, for example, is rooted in the Quran, which calls us all to accept diversity of belief, stating at one point that God deliberately made human beings different from each other to test our ability to get along.
The Quran refers to Jews, Christian and others as “people of the book,” guaranteeing that “they have their reward with the Lord.” It also requires Muslims to safeguard not only mosques but all houses of worship, including churches, monasteries and synagogues. Egyptian Muslims protested loudly that not enough was done to protect their Coptic Christian friends.
This kind of interreligious engagement and cooperation is at once extraordinary but also typical. In 2007, over 300 Muslim religious leaders signed A Common Word Between Us and You, an open letter to Christians based on the Quran. Last year, the Marrakesh Declaration on the Rights of Religious Minorities in Predominantly Muslim Majority Communities reconfirmed Islam’s respect for minority faiths in Muslim-majority lands.
Millions of Americans — here in the Bay Area and nationwide — are already modeling peace and interreligious friendship. We attend solidarity events with other faiths when their houses of worship are threatened or vandalized. We break bread with those who pray differently than us. We remind our elected officials — regularly — that the Constitution guarantees religious freedom.
Maha Elgenaidi is the executive director of Islamic Networks Group. Michael Pappas is the executive director of the San Francisco Interfaith Council.