By Alexis Moore

Since the 9/11 tragedy, reports of attacks, both physical and verbal, on Muslims—and those perceived to be Muslim—rose dramatically nationwide. The new word “Islamophobia” is now common, and such incidents demonstrate a sad erosion of the U.S. tradition of religious tolerance as yet another result of 10 years of war.

In an effort to build understanding and foster relationships among diverse communities, many AFSC offices have held events about Islamophobia. These programs featured art, food, and storytelling by Muslims, plus thoughtful audience discussions.

One such event was held in Greensboro, North Carolina. Featured were Nihad Awad, national Executive Director and co-founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and Muslim self-portraits facilitated by Todd Drake. As Ann Lennon, AFSC Carolina Area Coordinator said, “The more we come together to learn and grow as a community, the closer we will be to addressing issues that keep us divided.”

After attendees shared a meal, Awad provided basic information about Islam, noting that the word itself comes from the Arabic word for peace. “Islamophobia describes an ancient phenomenon—the failure to appreciate others, be they Catholics, Latinos, Jewish Americans. Being portrayed as ‘the other’ is dangerous, because ‘the others’ are usually minorities, and ‘the other’ ideology often becomes an obsession.”

“Now is a time to tell our stories, reach out, speak up, and smile. And to those who are not of my faith, it’s time to speak up for Muslims. This event is an example of true faith and of trust.” He drew hearty applause when he said, “Remember, we have come in different ships, but we are all in the same boat.”

Max Carter, a Friend and member of AFSC’s Corporation, also participated in the Greensboro program. He offered a version of a story told by Rufus Jones, an AFSC founder:

During a time of severe unemployment in England in the first part of the 20th century, Friends made land available to families for vegetable gardens. One man’s allotment of particularly poor soil required extra work to break up the dirt, but he diligently added compost, fertilized, and did all he could to improve the condition of the ground. In the fall, he enjoyed a very successful crop of vegetables. The local parish priest admired the farmer’s field and commented, “My, what a wonderful crop you and God have produced!” The farmer responded, “You should have seen it when God had it alone!”

Rufus Jones told this story to remind us that there is much work to be done in the world, and that God has no hands but ours to accomplish the tasks before us. To be effective in ministering to the needs of a hurting world, we will need to use God’s light, love, mercy, generosity, peace. God/Allah/Yahweh has no hands but ours—but with the Divine’s guidance, we are instruments, assisting in the work of redeeming the world.

Alexis Moore is AFSC’s Associate Director of External Affairs and Director of Media Relations.

Audio and video slideshows can be found at www.windowsandmirrors.org.

Also see www.muslimselfportrait.info for additional insights into Muslim lives.