Ann Arbor community and faith leaders responding to ‘anti-Muslim rhetoric’ sweeping nation

Ann Arbor community and faith leaders responding to ‘anti-Muslim rhetoric’ sweeping nation

By: Ryan J. Stanton StaffA Florida minister has called off plans to mark the anniversary of 9/11 on Saturday by burning copies of the Quran, but local community leaders say they still plan to protest the rise in “anti-Muslim rhetoric” and “Islamophobia” sweeping the nation.

Ann Arbor City Council Member Carsten Hohnke, D-5th Ward, is working with community leaders to bring forward a resolution affirming the city’s commitment to religious tolerance, including respect for the Islamic faith.

At a meeting earlier this week, Hohnke condemned the increasing vandalism and protests against mosques across the United States and violence against Muslim Americans — acts that have come in the wake of controversy over a proposal to build a mosque near Ground Zero in New York.

“A cab driver in New York was attacked for being Muslim,” Hohnke said, citing other anti-Muslim acts that he characterized as despicable. “Local movement groups have asked that the community speak out in support of religious tolerance, so I’ve been in discussions with the chair of the Human Rights Commission, the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, and the Interfaith Round Table.”

Hohnke said he wanted to let the public know that “we’re working on a response to show our support to the Muslim community and express our commitment to diversity here in our community.”

Chuck Warpehoski, co-director of the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice in Ann Arbor, said there’s a movement afoot among local faith leaders to speak out against what they’re characterizing as “Islamophobia.”

Several Ann Arbor-area pastors and religious leaders have decided to preach about religious tolerance from their pulpits this coming Sunday. The 10:30 a.m. worship service at St. Clare’s Episcopal Church in Ann Arbor will include a recitation from the Quran and a sermon on “Christian positive regard for Muslims,” said the Rev. James Rhodenhiser.

Warpehoski said he hopes a better understanding of Islam will come from continuing a community discourse about peace and respect for people of other faiths.

“One of the biggest misperceptions of the Muslim faith is that it’s singular — that there’s one way of being Muslim,” he said. “Most Muslims do oppose terrorism. Every Muslim I know has condemned the Sept. 11 attacks.”

Dawud Walid, the Michigan director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations and a leading Muslim activist, said no recent anti-Muslim incidents have been reported locally, but he hopes to keep the hysteria happening in other states from reaching Michigan. He said he’s been impressed with the community response in Ann Arbor.

“Ann Arbor has a national reputation of being a city of inclusion and promiting diversity, so we welcome this resolution coming in front of the council, and we hope it’s passed and adopted by other cities in the state of Michigan,” he said.

Walid said he believes the anti-Muslim sentiment across the United States is a product of this year’s mid-term elections, in which the Republicans are seeking to take control of Congress.

recent national survey by the Pew Research Center found nearly one-in-five Americans believe President Barack Obama is a Muslim. Walid believes Republicans are latching onto that.

“Bashing Muslims is more than just religious hatred — it’s a political strategy for some perverted politicians. It’s an attack against the president and, by default, Democratic incumbents who are linked to the president,” he said. “There are national political leaders who are using the politics of fear to bolster their names. For instance, former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich recently equated the religion of Islam with Naziism. Rudy Giuliani recently has made anti-Muslim remarks with regard to the Park51 Community Center project in Lower Manhattan. And Sarah Palin and others have made similar comments.”

Walid said it’s important that religious and political leaders in Michigan speak out loudly against bigotry and for the First Amendment rights of all Americans.

“History shows us in numerous events the negative and disastrous consequences of silence when seeing minority groups are being attacked and actively marginalized,” he said.

Warpehoski said he’s worried what could happen on the anniversary of 9/11.

“In the greater Detroit area, I’ve heard concerns about suspicious people watching the mosques, so I’m nervous about what we’re going to see on Saturday,” he said. “I’m worried that people who are angry and are misinformed are going to make things worse.”


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