Where were you when they started burning the Quran?
A couple of weeks ago, the Standing on the Side of Love campaign asked us to urge President Obama to take a stronger stand for religious freedom. This week, a coalition of faith groups echoed this message when they met with the Justice Department to encourage the Obama administration to take a more public stance against anti-Muslim hate speech and hate crimes.
Unfortunately, however, anti-Muslim hate speech and hate crimes are spreading. In the past couple of weeks alone:
- A man was arrested for shouting anti-Muslim slurs as he urinated outside a mosque in the Astoria section of Queens.
- A 21-year-old college student is accused of repeatedly stabbing a Manhattan taxi driver after asking if the driver is Muslim.
- Fire was set to a planned mosque and Islamic Center in a Memphis, Tennessee suburb.
Here in my home of Gainesville, Fla., a local fringe church known for its anti-Muslim and anti-LGBT rhetoric has been getting national media attention for their planned “Burn a Quran Day” on Sept. 11th.
That is why in Gainesville we are taking a strong stand. We are participating in a Gainesville March for Peace, actively working with a new interfaith organization to address these issues, and taking part in interfaith prayer services in partnership with the Muslim community. Can you stand with me, my town, and my Muslim neighbors here and throughout the world and plan or attend a local solidarity event?
We are also collecting discarded political yard signs from the recent primary elections and holding a gathering at our congregation to recycle them into creative declarations of religious tolerance and freedom to be displayed around town. In addition, many local clergy will join me in sharing common readings from the Quran at our September 10-12 worship services.
In the past, I have heard from the Islamic community that they have concerns that responding to such attacks might give more attention to the hate group planning them. Now, amid the Quran burnings in our town, the dangerous anti-Muslim political rhetoric, the destruction of property, the harassment, and the violence, we have reached the point at which it is our silence — not our response — that magnifies the power of the other side’s message.
In an environment immersed in fear, it is the responsibility of all who have the ability to stand for what is right to speak out. It may still be the best strategy for Muslims themselves to bear this insult in silence. That’s not my call. I would certainly understand not wanting to perpetuate an image as “angry.” Non-Muslims, however, don’t run that risk. For us, the risk is that our children will someday ask us: “Where were you when they started burning the Quran in Gainesville?”
I invite every individual, every member of the clergy, and every place of worship across the United States to stand in solidarity with me, my town, and our Muslim neighbors both here and throughout the world.
At your Friday, Saturday, or Sunday service on September 10, 11, or 12, plan to say a few words about religious diversity and freedom. Talk about what’s going on in Gainesville and New York and Tennessee and elsewhere. Urge your friends, neighbors, coworkers, and congregants to stand on the side of love and respect for religious diversity. And by all means, participate in local events supporting peace and religious freedom.
Thank you for standing on the side of love.
God bless us every one,
Rev. Dr. Meredith Garmon, Senior Minister
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville
P.S. To access some useful readings from the Quran you can use in your service or event, click here.