Marching Together Against Hate and Violence in East Contra Costa County

ING’s president, Maha Elgenaidi joined interfaith leaders from East Contra Costa county at a march and interfaith event in Antioch on Sunday, September 23rd. The event, titled, “Marching Together Against Hate and Violence in East Contra County” was organized in support of the Islamic Center of the East Bay (ICEB) after the August 12th arson vandalism of their building. The march and subsequent interfaith gathering was organized by the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County, and was also in response to a recent hate crime/vandalism incident against an African American family in Brentwood.

Representing the Muslim community along with ICEB leaders were Maha Elgenaidi from ING, and Shafath Syed from CAIR. Maha’s speech was follows:

Salam alaykum/peace be upon you. I want to begin by congratulating all of you for your courage to stand up against hatred, your compassion for ‘the other,’ and for fulfilling America’s promise of religious freedom and mutual respect. Today, you’ve become “Your Brother’s Keeper” in every sense of the Christian ethic of watching out for your Muslim & African American neighbors.

I was asked today to speak about Islam and its place in America.

Islam is not a new religion to America. Muslims have been here since the 18th century, arriving with the enslaved Africans who were brought to America. It is estimated that up to 1/3 of the enslaved Africans were Muslims, some of whom were able to maintain their religion while others won their freedom and made their way back to their homeland. And since the mid 1800’s Muslims have been immigrating to America from Middle Eastern and Arab and South Asian countries, establishing communities and building mosques since the early 1900’s. Today there are over 1200 mosques in America for a population that ranges between 6 and 7 million Muslims.

When polled recently, the vast majority of the mosques were found to be active in outreach, including interfaith and social services work. Muslim Americans are also a philanthropic community, pledging for example over $10M to the relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina.

Demographically, Muslims are some of the brightest and most hard working Americans. Large numbers of Muslims have a college education, having a median income of $60,000; they are your doctors, engineers, college professors, business owners and lawyers.

So, why do Americans continue to fear Islam and Muslims?

Because of the pervasive ignorance and stereotyping of Muslims in our popular culture, from news and television programs to films where Islam is portrayed as a violent, extremist religion that terrorizes and oppresses women.

As both a feminist and practitioner of the faith, I am here to affirm, as have numerous Muslims around the country, that Islam unequivocally condemns extremism, let alone terrorism or oppression of any kind, against any human being.

Groups like Al-Qaeda, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah do not speak for me nor do they speak for the vast majority of Muslims.

Islam teaches us to establish peace in our communities and Muslims are commanded to do so by following the Golden Rule of doing unto others as we would want to have done unto us. The path towards that goal is the cultivation of excellent moral character as exemplified by Moses, Jesus and Mohammed, peace be upon them all.

We always hear about what Islam is against, but we rarely address what Islam stands for.

Islam stands for moderation, not extremism. A famous tradition relates: “Always follow a middle course, whereby you will reach your goal” (Hadith, Bukhari)

Islam stands for the sanctity of human life, not its desecration. The Quran relates “…We ordained for the Children of Israel that whosoever kills a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all humankind, and whoso saves the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all humankind.” (Quran 5:32)

Islam stands for respect of human dignity, not humiliation, with a vision that sees humanity as God’s noble deputies in the world. The Quran relates, “We have honored the children of Adam and carried them on land and sea, and provided them with good things, and preferred them greatly over many of those We created” (Quran 17:70)

Islam stands for peaceful co-existence, not war. The Quran relates “God does not forbid you to be kind and equitable to those who have neither made war on your religion nor driven you from your homes, God loves the equitable.” (Quran 60:8)

Islam stands for universal & unbiased justice, not injustice. The Quran relates “O you who believe! Be steadfast witnesses for God in equity; and let not hatred of any people make you swerve from justice. Deal justly; that is nearer to God fearing. Observe your duty to God.” (Quran 5:8)

Islam stands for universal brotherhood, not enmity. The Quran relates, “O humankind! We have created you from a male & female, and then rendered you nations and tribes so that you might know one another. Indeed, the most honorable among you in the sight of God is he who is the most pious. Allah is knower, Aware.” (Quran 49:13)

Islam stands for mercy for all of creation, not cruelty. The Quran relates, “O Muhammad! We have only sent you as a mercy for all worlds.” (Quran 21:107)

And finally, Islam stands for diversity and plurality, not exclusivity. The Quran relates “For each of them, We have established a law, and a revealed way. And if God wished, God would have made you a single nation; but the intent is to test you in what God has given you. So let your goals be everything good. Your destiny, everyone, is to God, Who will tell you about that wherein you differed.” (Quran 5:48).

So let us continue to walk together with all of our diversity seeking harmony and peace for everyone regardless of their creed or color of skin, because we know that our communities are only as strong as our most vulnerable neighbor. And when neighbors are violated as were the Antioch mosque community and the Golden Family, all of us are violated and equally injured and hurt because their pain is our pain, which can only be alleviated by standing together in unity against hatred as we’re doing today.

God bless you for receiving God’s blessings in this sacred event.