I love my city of Chicago. One of my prouder moments occurred in 2010 which, to me, witnessed the manifestation of about ten years of outreach, communication, and deepening mutual respect across normative borders. It came out of years of interfaith dialogue and growing friendships.
At the end of that summer, I arrived home from my studies in Amman, Jordan to a welcome of something called “Quran Burning Day” as promulgated by some obscure preacher in Florida named Terry Jones.
I chuckled. I sighed. I knew that this preacher and his hate didn’t represent Christianity or those Christians beyond his flock. That’s illogical and runs contrary to my exposure and readings on Christians and their faith. He is an anomaly. Then I wondered how different today’s world would be if people thought similarly about Muslims and Islam when an anomaly decides to do some hateful act in the name of Islam. My following of this newest offense, I thought, would end there as I had better things to do with my time than give attention to this hate-monger.
A few days later I received a call to serve as the host of an interfaith press conference on Eid al-Fitr. This is the day of celebrating the completion of Ramadan and the fasting that comes with it; it was also the day of this Quran burning event.
Around 10,000 people attend the prayer and celebration each year at Toyota Park, home to Chicago’s soccer team. The field was packed with worshipers as our interfaith guests observed from the bleachers.
After the prayer, I was ready to move the press conference along, pressured with 14 people from 14 different faith traditions all wanting to voice their stand against the hate thrown toward Islam and its adherents. As I walked into the press room, I was given an additional five names.
To move a press conference along swiftly with a small handful of speakers is tough given news crews cannot stay long. But this was a powerful group with a powerful, single message: the Chicago interfaith community stands behind its Muslim brothers and sisters.
One local TV news station dedicated about 4 minutes of clip after clip, faith leader after faith leader, saying the same thing. The message denounced with a forceful voice any concerns that the same type of hate would be tolerated in Chicago. I’ll never forget Rev. Gregory Livingston, a Baptist, staring straight into the cameras and, with his bold, robust voice saying to the Florida preacher, “Brother, you’ve got it wrong.”
Such bonds of support and brotherhood is not strange in the world of religion. When people think religion polarizes us, a closer look indicates otherwise. It’s not religion that is polarizing, but those who want religion to polarize that causes the divide. To me, this position is simply playing into the hands of religious zealots and terrorists, reinforcing their warped perspective of religion.
People of faith trust their scriptures and one thing that interfaith dialogue has taught me is that, at their core, no faith in the world calls for hate of the other, destruction of civilization, or annihilation of different beliefs. Having nearly 20 faith traditions represented at this press conference exhibited the bond of brotherhood through several of our faiths’ common denominators: being your brother’s keeper; speaking the truth; standing against hate; educating the ignorant; detachment from self.
Knowing with full confidence that my friends of different faiths – indeed, different theologies and practices of worship – had my back did not arise out of a vacuum. This was the natural consequence of years of cooperation, discussion and firm belief that in coming together as an act of personal faith, we are taking strides toward creating a better world.
Janaan Hashim is a trustee of the Parliament of the World’s Religions an attorney with Amal Law Group, LLC and adjunct professor at McCormick Theological Seminary. She will be speaking at our upcoming 2014 Annual Conference, in a panel titled "The Role of Religions in an Increasingly Polarized Society," on Monday, June 9.