Washington, DC - “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”
As we approach Martin Luther King, Jr Day in the United States, on 21 January, these timeless words of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr speak to the critical need for people of the world to communicate across lines of differences and come to a common understanding. And such words cannot be reiterated often enough, especially after a woman arrested last month shocked many when she allegedly admitted to pushing a man onto the tracks of the New York City subway because she thought he was Muslim.
While this tragic occurrence saddened us, we are heartened by numerous examples of people who follow Dr King’s example. They come together, in spite of their differences, to advance their understanding for the betterment of humanity. And in many incidences, it has produced unlikely, sometimes surprising pairings.
For example, when the Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign announced their platform of standing with Muslim Americans to challenge anti-Muslim discrimination, they solidified a diverse coalition of national organisations. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the Islamic Society of North America and Rabbis for Human Rights are just three names from the impressive list of groups that work together to advance social justice and interreligious understanding.
Facilitating discussions, webinars and events to help defuse hateful actions directed at Muslims, Shoulder to Shoulder engages people of faith across the nation, emulating Dr King’s staunch advocacy for equality and his call for moral responsibility.
In another unique partnership, music mogul Russell Simmons collaborated with Rabbi Marc Schneier to create the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. They set in motion a series of programs and dialogues to erode misunderstanding between ethnic and faith communities. One of the foundation’s most successful programs is the Weekend of Twinning, which for the last five years has connected Muslim and Jewish communities. Mosques and synagogues, activist organisations and student groups from these two communities have come together to engage in significant conversations, and in some instances, to work together on meaningful projects.
The Weekend of Twinning, now a global initiative, helps to break down the stereotypes that Jews and Muslims may hold about each other. It also answers Dr King’s exhortation to reduce the fear and mistrust of one other by opening channels of communication, so that we might know each other.
For Muslims, this clearly echoes the command in the Qur’an in Surah Al Hujarat: “Oh humankind! We created you of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other. Truly the most honorable of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you. And God is All-Knowing, All-Aware.” The implication of knowing people with divergent interpretations of life is clear.
In Atlanta, the city of Dr King’s birthplace, several interfaith groups are working to reduce the fear of the “unknown other” by strengthening the bonds of faith and humanity through exchanges and interactions among faith communities. One of those organisations, Interfaith Community Initiatives, has led hundreds of Jews, Christians and Muslims on journeys across the globe to explore each other’s faith perspectives, with sacred spaces as the backdrop.
When they return to Atlanta, these World Pilgrims not only cement lasting friendships across faith lines, they also create novel experiences for others. Imam Plemon El Amin, director of World Pilgrims, points out how, after one journey, Rabbi Ron Segal of Temple Sinai and Reverend Gerald Durley of Providence Baptist Church (who marched with Dr King) collaborated to open a conference of rabbis in Atlanta with songs from the Baptist choir.
As we commemorate the life and teachings of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr we can take heart in the endeavors of those who have followed his courageous example. This amazing model remains as a powerful beacon, not just for African Americans and not for just for people of faith across the nation, but for all people around the world.
When we remain vigilant in our embrace of communication and understand that fear and hate corrodes not only relationships with each other, but our own hearts, then we realize that all lives are interrelated and we learn the value of knowing each other.
* Tayyibah Taylor is the Founding Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of the award-winning Azizah Magazine, and has been named as one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the world. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).
Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 15 January 2013, www.commongroundnews.org
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