I was so pleased to see a large audience at the community gathering. When I arrived, the church was nearly half full and many more people arrived after me. The Rep-Am estimated some 200 people were in attendance. Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, agnostics, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, unaffiliated voters, and more came together to take a stand against bigotry, racism, xenophobia, and intolerance.
|The scene when I arrived, before the church filled up.|
The program included an interfaith reading of scriptures. A passage from the Koran was sung by 10-year-old Mariam Beshtawii, followed by a reading by Eman Beshtwaii. Rabbi Shaul Marshall Praver gave a harmonious reading. Pastor Rodney Wade concluded the scripture readings with a passage that anyone who invokes God should keep in mind: "If a man says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who doesn't love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen"
|Eman Beshtawii from Al Heydaya Islamic Center speaking at the lectern|
The readings were followed by powerful reflections. Fahd Syed, one of the organizers of the event, spoke about his personal experiences following 9/11, when he was targeted and harassed for being visibly Muslim. He spoke about having a gun held to his head because he was Muslim. He spoke about an employer requiring him to shave his beard so he would look less threatening.
Reflections were also offered by Saifuddin Hasaan from Masjid Al Islam New Haven, Jamilah Jackson from the NAACP, and Farhan Memon from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
Jackson spoke about what it means to be an ally, about the importance of allowing the people we support to have their own voices and make their own choices. Memon spoke about the efforts that politicians have made and most likely will continue to make to criminalize anyone who gives aid to Muslims.
|Fahd Syed sharing his personal experiences|
The greatest danger, powered by fear, is the inclination to lump everyone together and claim that one rotten apple represents the entire group. There are two billion Muslims in the world. The vast majority are ordinary people who want to live in peace, harmony, and equality with everyone else.
Some of you may be wondering why this community gathering was necessary. You may be thinking "oh, people around here don't persecute Muslims, that's something that happens in other places, not here." The truth is that bigotry exists everywhere. The truth is that, if you actually stop to ask, you may find that people you know have, in fact, been harassed and discriminated against right here in Waterbury.
Here are some painful examples of the bigotry that exists in our own community. When The Waterbury Observer posted the flyer for the community gathering on its Facebook page, one man responded with the following hate-filled comment: "What the fuck is a church doing hosting an Islamic organization?! That goes against every tenant of Christianity. There is only ONE God; Jesus Christ. Disgusting, absolutely disgusting."
When the Rep-Am published a story about the event, an anonymous and profoundly ignorant individual wrote "The United States has been fighting Islam since our very beginning, thru WWII, to today... Islam must be acknowledged as the political philosophy it is and not a religion...then eliminated." [Fact check: Islam really is a religion and has been for more than 1400 years; we fought Nazis, Italian fascists, and Japanese imperialists during WWII; and the first time we fought against Muslims (the "shores of Tripoli"), we were actually fighting against piracy not Islam.]
Waterbury's political leaders were given an opportunity to make their remarks, voicing their support for the Muslim community. Democrats Paul Pernerewski, Liz Brown, Geraldo Reyes, and Larry Butler all spoke, as did Republican Tom Van Stone, Sr. Two of Waterbury's Republican politicians make some of the best remarks. Stephanie Cummings, who serves of the Board of Aldermen and recently replaced Selim Noujaim as State Representative for the 74th District, spoke about attending services in churches, temples, and mosques, about listening to all residents and their viewpoints so that she can truly represent all of her constituents. Alderman Steve Giacomi spoke about his family's experience decades ago as Italian immigrants who were discriminated against because they were Italian: "It wasn't right then, and it isn't right now" for anyone to face discrimination or injustice because of prejudice against an ethnicity or religion.
|State Representative and Alderwoman Stephanie Cummings voicing her support|
After the elected officials spoke, we all joined in the following Community Pledge:
We stand together as a community. We are linked by our diverse faiths and beliefs that have a common teaching: We are required to treat others as we, ourselves, wish to be treated.
We stand in solidarity with any neighbor who is singled out in hatred. We will act to support and love our neighbors. We pledge to speak out against any hatred or mistreatment that our sisters and brothers suffer.
We pledge to ask our elected officials to be proactive and prepared to use our laws to combat hate and persecution.
We as our local elected and appointed officials to be vigilant, and act immediately to oppose acts of hatred against any in our community. All our neighbors must be protected against acts of violence, regardless of their faith, age gender, race, orientation, and ethnicity.
We pledge this because we have been taught that anything that is done to any of our brothers or sisters is done also to us. To seal this pledge let us say
Let It Be!
To find out about more events like this one, contact the Naugatuck Valley Project. Their email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.