Bay Area Muslims Decry Palm Sunday Violence and Call for Interfaith Unity for Human Rights

By Maha Elgenaidi, ING Executive Director, and Hamza Yusuf Hanson, President of Zaytuna College.

This opinion originally appeared in the San Jose Mercury News.

Last weekend, as Christians observed Palm Sunday, powerful bomb blasts struck Coptic Christian churches in Egypt in an assault claimed by ISIS. The timing and brutality of the attacks were particularly shocking, as they violated not only the sanctity of Christian houses of worship but also a holy day that is sacred to Christians worldwide.

Once again, these attacks show the level of depravity and inhumanity that has characterized ISIS and other radical groups. As Muslims, people of all faiths, and leaders across the world swiftly and vigorously condemned these attacks, Muslim communities reaffirmed the following values and principles that we believe are central to our religious understanding and practice:

  • We affirm and uphold the sanctity of all human life, the taking of which is among the gravest of all sins.
  • We affirm the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and speech.
  • We affirm the right to security in one’s livelihood, profession, and residence.
  • We believe that God created us with all the diversity of race, religion, language, and belief to get to know one another, not to despise or hate one another.
  • We believe that Islam is above all a religion of peace and mercy, and that Muslims are obligated to model those traits in their lives and characters and to work for the good of our homeland and society, wherever that might be.

The three Abrahamic faiths share a long tradition and commonalities that are affirmed by numerous Qur’anic verses. The Qur’an repeatedly calls for respect for religious diversity and pluralism, stating at one point, for instance, that God deliberately made human beings different, revealing to different nations different “revealed ways” to test humanity’s ability to get along.

The Qur’an also gives Jews and Christians (with others) the special status of “People of the Book,” assuring them, with Muslims, that “they have their reward with the Lord.” It also demands that houses of worship—specifically, monasteries, churches, synagogues, and temples, in addition to mosques, be safeguarded.

The Marrakesh Declaration on the Rights of Religious Minorities in Predominantly Muslim Majority Communities was signed in January, 2016, at a conference attended by hundreds of Muslim scholars and intellectuals from over 120 countries. It reconfirmed Islam’s respect for minority faiths in Muslim-majority lands.

The Declaration calls “upon representatives of the various religions, sects and denominations to confront all forms of religious bigotry, vilification, and denigration of what people hold sacred, as well as all speech that promotes hatred and bigotry; and to affirm that it is unconscionable to employ religion for the purpose of aggressing upon the rights of religious minorities in Muslim countries.”

As we mourn the deaths from the Palm Sunday attack, we must strengthen our resolve to support such initiatives and renew our dedication to standing together in solidarity against the forces of hate and evil. We hope such heinous acts inspire us not to hatred and anger but rather to greater love, interfaith understanding, harmony, and peace.

Maha Elgenaidi is Executive Director of Islamic Networks Group, a San Jose-based national non-profit organization dedicated to religious literacy and interfaith engagement. Hamza Yusuf Hanson is President of Zaytuna College, the first liberal arts Muslim-founded college based in Berkeley. Other signatories can be found at