By Jordan Goldwarg
December 1, 2016
ON a recent night, I received a disturbing email informing me of vandalism that had damaged the main sign at the Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS), the largest mosque in the region.
The following day, I received a phone call from a Muslim friend telling me that if a national Muslim registry is created, she will fear for her children and move her family back to East Africa.
These two incidents dramatically illustrate the anxiety that American Muslims are feeling, driven in no small part by a 67 percent increase in hate crimes last year over 2014, according to the FBI.
The vandalized sign underscores the critical importance of non-Muslim allies to stand against Islamophobia and support our Muslim friends and neighbours.
We need to defend Muslims for two reasons. First, as friends, we can speak out against bigotry and lend our voices in opposition to those who say that Muslims who speak in their own defence are simply trying to protect their own interests.
Second, we have the ability to make members of a targeted group feel valued and accepted as members of our community. So many of my Muslim colleagues have told me that community support is what makes this time of fear and anxiety more bearable.
In my work as the director of an interfaith-youth movement, I have had the privilege of visiting numerous mosques in Seattle and forming close friendships and professional relationships with many Muslims. Through these contacts, I have come to see Islam as a religion that espouses peace, compassion and tolerance.
I have been humbled to see the work done by mosques like MAPS — and its partner organization, the Muslim Community Resource Centre — to support the vulnerable and needy in our community, whether they are Muslim or not.
The Muslim Association recently hosted a free community-health clinic, open to all, and a Thanksgiving dinner for residents of Tent City 4 in Issaquah.
Here are four simple ways you can make a difference, starting today:
• If you have never visited a mosque, now is the time. This is a key to educating yourself about Islam. You will be met with warmth and hospitality. MAPS responded to the act of hate committed against it with an act of love by hosting an open house.
• Talk with Muslim co-workers, neighbours and acquaintances to hear their experiences. Host a dinner at which you invite Muslim and non-Muslim friends. Talk to your non-Muslim colleagues about your experiences with Muslims.
• Debunk common myths and misrepresentations of Islam by going to websites such as islamfactcheck.org.
• Host a presentation about Islam for your employer, house of worship or community group. The Seattle Islamic Speakers Bureau and the Council on American-Islamic Relations can provide speakers.
Most important, do not stay silent when you hear someone making disparaging remarks about Muslims or Islam. I can speak from firsthand experience about the value of having an ally speak up for me. As a gay man, I have been in situations where the presence of a straight friend made all the difference in the world.
From friends who helped me to come out while in college, to neighbours who spent untold hours phone-banking and canvassing in support of marriage equality here in Washington, to Muslim friends who called me the day after the Orlando nightclub massacre to let me know they had my back, I have witnessed the power of allies standing beside me. Now, it is American Muslims who are in their hour of need. Will you join me in standing beside them?
Jordan Goldwarg is the Northwest regional director for Kids4Peace International, a global movement of youth and families, dedicated to ending conflict and inspiring hope in divided societies around the world.