Of anti-supremacist heroes, Ramadan and coexistence

Last week there was the horrific and incomprehensible tragedy in Portland Oregon, USA. Two Muslim teenage young ladies on a train, one of whom wearing a hijab, were subjected to hateful and offensive speech by a 35-year old known white American supremacist.

Three American heroes – 53-year-old Ricky John Best, 23-year-old Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche and 21-year-old David Cole Fletcher – defended these two young Muslims; but the hatemonger used a knife to slash the three men. Heroes Ricky and Taliesin were fatally stabbed, and David sustained serious injuries.

People are still streaming into the train station to leave bouquets of flowers and poems. Some wrote: ‘Interrupt hate even if you die’; ‘Raise your children to be upstanders like them’. While countless hearts are broken, Americans are in sincere awe of the bravery and courage of these three men. They reflect the spirit and kindness and generosity of the America that is widely acknowledged.

Americans by nature are exceedingly charitable. When the tsunami hit Sri Lanka unknown people were knocking at our doors to leave cash and gifts for the affected. Selflessness, in this society, is second nature in crises.

Responding to the tragedy, the internet campaign ‘Muslims Unite for Portland Heroes,’ $590,968 (Rs. 90 million) with 10,959 persons contributing, has been raised in a matter of days to support the families of the brave men. And at this writing funds are still pouring into the approved charity www.LaunchGood.org. Other initiatives are also in train.

If the Portland tragedy gives the impression that Islamophobia is rampant in America, that’s far from the truth. A growing number of Americans are indeed aware that Islam is a religion of peace, as the word Islam in itself means. In spite of media reports of terrorist activity in various parts of the world, they are conscious that 99.99% of the Muslim community has absolutely no alliances with ISIS or its kin nor its mentally-deranged philosophy.

This understanding is manifested, for instance, in the warm inter-faith outreach that is prevalent in many parts of America. If there is 02one positive outcome of hate speech that has prevailed, it is that faith communities have bonded together to show their support towards peace-loving Muslims and to reinforce each other.

Just last week, for instance, as the month of Ramadan began, the Islamic Community Centre of Potomac Centre (ICCP) in the writer’s neighbourhood received an incredible note from of St. James Episcopal Church in the heart of the Washington area. It brought lumps to my throat.

The Assistant Rector, Rev. James wrote (and I quote extracts): “I would like to propose that St. James’ Episcopal Church in Potomac (the place where you all observed a previous Ramadan—as the ICCP facility was being renovated) partially sponsor one evening meal at the ICCP for the Ramadan Iftar as a gesture of our continued relationship with your congregation.”

That was not all. Here’s the stunner as one read Rev. James’ further outreach: “I would like to propose that members of St. James’ who would like to, join your congregation in fasting that day during Ramadan, and then joining your congregation in breaking the fast at the Iftar at the ICCP on the evening that we have helped sponsor.”

If lumps came to my throat earlier, this time I was swept off my feet!

Rev. James concludes in a show of true Christ-like humility: “I humbly present this proposal to you for your consideration fully aware that the Iftar is an important event for your community and we would be outsiders in the context of that special occasion for your congregation. Please do not feel any pressure to respond positively to this if it doesn’t feel like a good fit for your community’s vision for its Ramadan Iftar. It is just an idea and I feel that it has the potential to strengthen our relationship.”

Kids from another church, St. John’s Episcopal, during the ‘travel ban’ talk a few months back sent over 100 individually handcrafted cards to the Islamic Centre. The messages tug at one’s heartstrings: ‘Light will triumph over darkness’; ‘My Muslim brothers and sisters we are praying for you at St. John’s’; ‘We stand with you against intolerance; ‘Don’t give up. We must COEXIST.’

The Islamic Centre hosts its Ramadan Inter-faith Iftar event this week where close to 120 non-Muslims from at least eight faith groups in the area will attend. Some of them will be fasting on that day as a show of support!

(The writer can be contacted by e-mail [email protected].)

[Original publication : http://www.ft.lk]