Since the abominable attacks of Tuesday, September 11, Islam has been placed under suspicion. Some Islamic institutions have experienced sporadic incidents of violence and federal investigation. Several Muslims are in detention for visa violations and an inordinate number have been experiencing racial profiling. Moreover, the world has witnessed a war in Afghanistan, the ongoing cycle of violence in Palestine and a growing threat of war against Iraq. All of these unsavory episodes have further exacerbated the anguish and distress that many Muslims have been suffering since that fateful September morning.
Notwithstanding the anxiety that abounds within the American Muslim community, it is the responsibility and duty of conscientious Muslims to keep alive the lamp of hope. We need to celebrate the triumph of the human spirit against all odds. There are many Quranic passages that exhort us in this regard. In surah az-Zumar, chapter 39, verse 53, Allah, the Sublime declares:
Do not ever despair of Allah’s Mercy.
In surah al-Inshirah, chapter 94, verses 5–8; a surah from which we can derive great spiritual comfort and solace, Allah, the Sublime declares:
“ After hardship comes ease;
Truly after hardship comes ease”
The dramatic turn of world events triggered by the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 has ironically led to an unprecedented solidarity from ordinary Americans toward their Muslim neighbors. On September 14, three days after the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a group of around two hundred inter-religious activists encircled the Bridgeview Mosque in the southwest suburb of Chicago, and stood vigil with candles vowing to protect the mosque against any kind of revenge attacks. In the subsequent days and weeks in response to reports of anti-Muslim reprisal attacks, the local Michiana Islamic Center received bouquets of flowers and a number of Christian delegations attended the Friday congregational services. This remarkable display of inter-religious solidarity in the face of sporadic incidents of mindless attacks on Mosques and Muslims in various parts of the United States served to underscore the widespread solidarity that many Muslims received from their non-Muslim compatriots in the aftermath of September 11.
For those inter-religious activists who have long campaigned that inter-religious solidarity should be accorded a more prominent place in the programs of religious institutions, the irony of post September 11 reality is painful. Inter-religious activities has indeed ascended near the top of the agenda of a number of religious institutions all over the United States, but it was triggered by an abominable terrorist attack that has only served to reinforce the widespread public perception that Islam is linked to violence in some special way. This confounding curiosity presents a renewed opportunity to counteract negative stereotypes about Islam and Muslims and to foster and deepen inter-religious solidarity in the United States.
The critical challenge however, facing inter-religious advocates is how to sustain and transform this renewed inter-religious solidarity and energy into a powerful grassroots inter-religious movement for peace.