By Jordan Denari 10-12-2015

This weekend, demonstrators assembled outside several mosques across the country, some decrying “No Sharia law” and “Stop Islamic immigration” and others openly carrying weapons. Dubbed the “Global Rally for Humanity,” dozens of these anti-Muslim rallies were originally planned on social media, but fortunately, only a few materialized.

In their place, peace rallies and potlucks sprang up, drawing more attendees than the protests themselves. Some of these counter-demonstrations were organized by Muslim groups, including a Twitter campaign and a voter registration drive. Christian groups and interfaith organizations, like one in Spokane, Washington, also orchestrated events.

Still, there were concerning examples of hostility in some locations. Outside a Phoenix, Arizona mosque, also the site of an armed rally led by anti-government activists last May, some protestors wore “F**k Islam” shirts, shouted vulgar slogans, and carried guns. In Plano, Texas, a few individuals stood at the entrance to the parking lot of an Islamic center shouting, “We will take our country back” and yelling epithets about Allah and the Prophet Muhammad.

Hopefully, America won’t have to see another round of protests like the ones that were anticipated this weekend. But if anti-Muslim activities do pop up again, here’s what Christian communities should do:

1. Gather together… and pray together

The most important way to respond to organized anti-Muslim protests is by coming together. While speaking out on social media is an important and positive step, online activism is not a substitute for the solidarity that can only be built through personal relationships.

Religious institutions, interfaith groups, and private citizens shouldn’t wait for Muslim organizations to initiate these gatherings. Rather, they should proactively organize round-table conversations, communal meals, and service projects, inviting the Muslim community and all people of good will to participate. (They should, however, consult the Muslim community throughout the planning and make sure they’re comfortable with the response).

One meaningful gesture that could compliment these activities is joint prayer. Christians could observe Muslim’s prayer rituals, or better yet, recite a written prayer together with them. This sample prayer, which incorporates teachings from both Islamic and Christian traditions, could be used to affirm the common values maintained by all:

Almighty and Merciful God,

Who created humanity in all its wonderful diversity:

Help us to be peacemakers

And inspire us to repel evil with good.

Help us to love our neighbors,

To welcome the stranger,

And to turn enemies into friends.

Guide as one community

As we strive on the path of justice, peace, and understanding.

2. If you do demonstrate, make Jesus (and Muhammad) proud

Sometimes, a direct response to a hostile rally may be appropriate. But this decision should be made in conjunction with the local Muslim community.

If the community does choose to take it to the streets, participants should heed the words of Jesus and Muhammad who encouraged their followers not to mimic the actions of their persecutors, but instead to respond to hostility with kindness and gentleness. Patiently bearing wrongs and responding with “what is better,” the Qur’an says, will turn one’s enemy into a close friend (Qur’an 41:34).

Demonstrators should also forgo intimidation and name-calling and instead consider handing out bottled water and food to the protestors. This was the approach of many Muslim worshippers, who greeted skeptical demonstrators with beverages, hugs, and offers to visit the mosque.

3. Learn about Islam…and Islamophobia

Forming personal relationships is no doubt the most effective antidote to the fear and ignorance that feed anti-Muslim activities. But education is also an important factor in breaking down misunderstanding. Churches and other community institutions would do well to host a local Muslim scholar or activist to speak about their faith. Speakers could address topics like social justice in Islam, the Prophet Muhammad, and the concept of rahmah, or mercy, in Islam.

Many Americans are still unaware about the prejudice and discrimination that Muslims have faced in the wake of 9/11, particularly in the last five years. So education about Islamophobia is also important to promote. Groups could screen short episodes from the online sitcom, Halal in the Family, created by Aasif Mandvi of the Daily Show. These short (and hilarious) clips give a cheesy glimpse into the lives of American Muslims, while also highlighting important facts about the impact of Islamophobia in America: surveillance of Muslim organizations, negative media portrayals, and opposition to the constructions of mosques.

Numerous activist organizations and educational initiatives, like the Bridge Initiative, where I work, provide resources that the public can utilize to promote awareness about Islamophobia.

4. Publicize what you’re doing, even if it’s something small

Some might be concerned that there won’t be enough interest from non-Muslims to attend these events. But if you plan it — and promote it well — people will show up. As more Americans become aware of the increased hostility faced by the Muslim community, they want ways to help. They just need to be told how.

5. Repeat steps 1 through 4, even when a hate rally isn’t coming to town

Though this weekend’s protests didn’t turn out to be as bad as many predicted, Islamophobia is still a major problem in America. Anti-Muslim sentiment and conspiracy theories about the “Islamic threat” circulate on the web, while the rhetoric of presidential candidates on Islam and Syrian refugees often verges on fearmongering. Several American Muslims have been murdered within the last year — most notably the killing of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina — and law enforcement has uncovered more plots to attack the Muslim community.

That’s why, even if a protest isn’t planned outside the nearest mosque, Christians should initiate positive, pro-active gatherings with the goal of welcoming the Muslim community and building bonds of friendship.

If Christians — and Americans of all backgrounds — commit themselves to this cause, perhaps these rallies will no longer be a fear of the future, but instead a memory of the past.

Jordan Denari

A Catholic voice on Muslim-Christian relations, Jordan Denari (@jdenari) is a Research Fellow at Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative, a project to educate the public about Islamophobia. 

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