On the night of the Paris attacks, I sat with a group of peers in a small chapel for a space of prayer, silence, and tears.
The loudest cries came from my Muslim friend Ayshe. She had organized the space for people to gather, and now she sat next to me quaking with emotion.
Her tears burned me with such a stinging tangibility that I felt like my body was producing them myself. Her grief was so deep. My whole body shook with her sorrow.
“How can I pray my prayer, Allahu Akbar,” she cried, “when those people use my words for such terror.”
As I placed my hand on her back, I could offer no response to her question.
My heart breaks for all of the violence across the world and against each other here in the United States. But right now, my heart breaks deeply for my Muslim brothers and sisters.
On Nov. 16, a new report from the FBI stated:
“Hate crimes in America dipped across the board in 2014, except in the category of anti-Muslim crimes, which rose about 14 percent over the prior year. Given the barbaric Islamic State attacks in Paris last week and elsewhere recently, that latter trend seems destined to accelerate.”
The presence of hate crimes against Muslims is no new phenomenon. Prior to the 9/11 attacks, there typically recorded between 20-30 hate crime against Muslims per year and after 2001 that number rose to nearly 500.
This summer, we saw the murder of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, N.C. On Nov. 15 in London, a man pushed a Muslim woman into an oncoming underground train. And on Thanksgiving Day, a man in a taxicab in Pittsburgh, Pa., shot his driver in the back for being Muslim.
These incidents do not need to be listed as statistics to validate reality but they do need to be heard.
But as a fellow human of Divine creation, I feel I must make the real presence of Islamophobia known.
Years ago, I lived with a Muslim family in Rabat, Morocco, for four months. Through a mix of broken Arabic, many pots of Moroccan mint tea, and their deeply Islamic hospitality, a relationship of mutual love and compassion grew deep.
A painful reality hit when I came back to America and one of the first interactions I had with a distant family member included words such as “infidels” and “terrorists.”
Islamophobia is real. It is growing. And for our Muslim brothers and sisters, it is dangerous.
A young Muslim hijab-wearing friend shared recently on Facebook that the night of the Paris attacks was, “the first instance in a very long time that [she] felt uneasy walking alone.”
As Christians, what is our role in combating Islamophobia?
First, we must listen. We must listen to our Muslim friends. See their pain. Acknowledge the fact that it may actually be, as journalist Dean Obeidallah claims, that it is “Muslims who hate ISIS the most.”
Second, we must speak. Currently, there are 31 U.S. governors who are using Islamophobic tactics to redirect fear and hatred toward Syrian refugees.
We cannot remain silent. When anti-Muslim sentiments are spoken in your circles, you must speak.
Finally, we must continue to love. As Christians, it becomes our duty to keep loving our neighbors — especially those who are persecuted and on the margins, which currently includes our Muslim brothers and sisters.
It is my hope that Christians and Muslims will walk together towards salaam, and not contribute to the dangerously slippery slope of Islamophobia. Inshallah.