Islamophobia in the United States is not new. However, studies compiling FBI data, such as the one conducted by Georgetown's Bridge Initiative, state that, today, U.S Muslims are five times more likely to be the victim of a hate crime than they were before 9/11 - a startling statistic, to say the least. For Rev. Will McGarvey and the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County (ICCCC), a United Religions Cooperation Circle, the antidote to this fear and hate based sentiment is simultaneously simple and complex: love.
In a conversation with Rev. Will McGarvey, he reminded me that more than half of Americans who say they hate Muslims have never actually met a Muslim. The Reverend and his colleagues have set out to change this statistic, by implementing a “Love Your Muslim Neighbors” program in California’s San Francisco Bay Area, where “loving” your Muslim neighbor is not passive, but rather an active commitment.
Over the course of nine “Love Your Muslim Neighbor” events held at a variety of different Christian congregations, the ICCCC has initiated and facilitated crucial discussions on some of the major misconceptions regarding Muslims, with up to 200 participants. The interreligious exchanges vary from panel discussions hosted by American Muslims of different ethnicities, religious sects, gender identities, and so on, to more intimate and informal conversations where non-Muslim community members voice curiosities they have always had but have never known how or whom to ask.
Changing the hearts and minds of people is no easy feat - but it can be done. At one of the events, a community member shared that she feared all American Muslims wanted to implement Sharia Law. However, upon engaging with her Muslim neighbors at one of these events, she realized her information sources had completely misled her.
“It took meeting a real Muslim, or a few of them, to understand that there’s an Islamophobia industry in our culture that perpetuates these lies about Muslims,” said Rev. Will McGarvey.
The “Love Your Muslim Neighbor” events are just one of the many ways URI Cooperation Circles and other interfaith peacebuilders across Canada and the United States are creatively and impactfully invoking the type of change that is most difficult to sustain: change within hearts and minds.
The list of solidarity events is heartwarmingly long and includes programming, such as the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council's "Hands Around the Mosque" gathering, which brought over 250 community members together to demonstrate solidarity with their Muslim neighbors, the Interfaith Center at the Presidio's panel discussion: Political and Religious Extremism: Creating an Effective Response, the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative's recent partnership with "Standing Alongside America's Muslims" and the Sun Devils are Better Together's continuous "Meet a [Insert Faith Tradition]" campaign promoting interreligious relationships, among many others.
© Sun Devils Are Better Together
Moving forward, Rev. Will McGarvey hopes to partner with other places of worship, particularly Masjids (mosques), so that relationships among community members can deepen and the program’s reach can expand.
If you are interested in hosting, collaborating with, or learning more about “Love Your Muslim Neighbor,” contact Rev. Will McGarvey with the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County by emailing eye4cee[at]gmail.com. For more information on the program, click here and to watch a "Love Your Muslim Neighbor" panel discussion, click here.