For Dawud and the Muslim American Society’s mosque in Katy, Texas, it all started with pig races.
Soon after the group purchased land in the Houston suburb in 2006, their neighbor, Craig Baker, began hosting pig races and selling tickets to his friends and members of the public. In time, some 300 spectators showed up every Friday evening corresponding precisely with the jummah prayers—the holiest time of the week for Muslims.
While things are more peaceful today, signs of hostility still show strongly: two blue and white billboards bearing a Christian cross and a Star of David are posted just off the edge of the mosque’s property. The intended message isn’t subtle: “Muslims, you don’t belong here.”
Though many people in the U.S. actually had pretty favorable views of Islam following 9/11, a recent study by Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative found that those views became increasingly negative over the last 15 years. Indeed, a Pew Research Center Reportfound that the U.S. public’s views of Muslims were more negative than toward any other religious group.
Survey data only tells part of the story. Every day, Muslims bear the brunt of Islamophobia in flesh and blood.
“Identity politics” gives Islamophobia much of its energy. Anti-Muslim views propose that we must define and protect our own identity against others—in this case, a religious other, Muslims. The rise of populist, nationalist, right-wing parties around the globe are now using Muslims — and other religious, ethnic, or social groups — as scapegoats for society’s problems. Muslims are accused of not having integrated properly or assimilated according to the dominant groups’ demands.
The good news is, our identity does not have to be wrapped up in our culture, our creed, our country, or our carefully constructed conception of the “religious other.” Instead, our identity is founded in something much more biological, foundational, and inescapable — our mutual humanity.
This message is immensely liberating. We do not need to be defined by our animosity to any higher power or our alienation from one another. We do not have to identify ourselves according to our opposition to others. We do not have to construct ourselves around the lies that a hateful culture feeds us. Instead, we can pursue relationships with anyone and everyone, seeking to build peace and promote friendship where others sow violence and advance hate.
Indeed, in such an environment of hate and bigotry, friendships can be downright revolutionary. They can toss the world on its head. As we seek to see the humanity and dignity in our neighbors — Muslim or otherwise — we can begin to see things from a different point of view.
What can we do? There are numerous organizations seeking to make a positive change and build connections between people of various religious groups. Check out Interfaith Youth Core, MissUnderstanding, Amanda’s Plate, the Global Immersion Project, or other posts and resources here at THRED.
Each is attempting to confront the challenges of our world today with peace, love, and mutual friendship between people of various cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. We can only hope that folks like these, with your help, can win the day as they tend to peace in the fertile soil of friendships.
To start, it might be helpful for you reach out to someone in your neighborhood, at work, school, or at your local mosque about getting together sometime for a meal or a conversation. The truth of the matter is that we don’t need to be experts on Islam to relate to Muslims. But getting to know a Muslim neighbor is a great way to learn more.
In fact, relationships with Muslims are probably the best way for us to learn more about their religion. In the context of relationships we can begin to listen and learn, pay attention to another’s perspective, and start a dialogue that will lead us to discern how best to love our Muslim neighbors, advocate for their rights, and stand as their allies.
The first step is simply to reach out. Call your local mosque. Drop by your neighbor’s house with an invite for dinner. Offer to grab a tea with your coworker. Don’t go in with any grand plans or specific agenda. Instead, sit with eyes and ears open to learn and grow and get to know your Muslim neighbor as a human being. Not only will you earn a new friend, you’ll help counteract much of the evil and hate directed at Muslims each and every day. That, my friends, is as worthwhile cause as any.
This post reflects the views and experiences of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on immigration from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.