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By Maha Elgenaidi, Executive Director, and Ameena Jandali, Content Director.
This opinion originally appeared in the San Jose Mercury News.
Last Saturday, we were privileged to address thousands of peaceful protesters at the Women’s Marches in San Jose and San Francisco. Together, we made a powerful statement against bigotry and hate. [Watch Maha’s speech here]
After nearly a quarter century of working with our organization, Islamic Networks Group, to counter prejudice and discrimination against American Muslims, we found the marches an exuberant affirmation and an outpouring of support for all minorities.
As long-time activists in this field, we know that promoting tolerance and understanding is a timely and long-term effort. We understand the potential dangers with the surge in anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate. And we know this will be a long road.
But last weekend, we were reassured that we will be not be marching alone. We saw the commitment of millions of Americans from all walks of life, races, and backgrounds who stood up, not only for their own issues, but for the rights of all Americans.
We saw an emergent America that is deeply concerned with humanitarian and civil rights issues, that values its diversity, and that reaches across multiple lines for the common good.
We recognize that while the details of our life stories may be different, at the core they are the same. God tells us in the Quran, “I created you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.” Last weekend was a reminder of that diversity and the reality that except for native peoples, all of us came here as immigrants at some point in American history.
What has enabled our kaleidoscope of colors, cultures, religions, and tongues to come together as one nation has been the framework established by our founding fathers in which we can live together in peace, by guaranteeing fundamental and inviolable rights: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to choose our government leaders, freedom to assemble peaceably to seek redress of wrongs, and all the other freedoms that make us Americans.
Among the central principles of our constitution is that policies based on one’s religion are discriminatory. It is this framework that allows people with such diversity to live together in peace and harmony.
But there cannot be rights without responsibilities. Among our responsibilities — above all, at this moment in our history — is the obligation to stand together as one family to protect this nation, its principles and ideals, its values and laws, against the forces of fear and bigotry that would tear us apart.
In order to turn protest into progress, we must re-commit with a new vigor and energy to learn about each other, our cultures, our faiths and our lives. We realize that the days ahead may be challenging, but we also know that they provide new opportunities for dialogue, education and collaboration.
We look forward to working with our fellow citizens in the coming year as we redouble our efforts to create an America that is built upon the principles of diversity, justice, fairness, respect, and harmony.
We renew our pledge to stand together, more determined than ever to work for justice, equal rights, and inclusion of all communities.