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Our Muslim neighbors live in “Fear and Trembling”

October 8, 2010

Wednesday night, about 160 folks from Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith communities met for dialogue at St. Andrew’s Cathedral via the Catholic Information Center’s program, Fear and Trembling: An Interfaith Conversation about Anti-Muslim Sentiment in Western Michigan.

The purpose of the dialogue was to raise  awareness about the true practices of Islam and the misunderstanding and persecution that local Muslims face. Fr John Geaney CSP opened the dialogue by asking, “Is the United States Islamaphobic? I read the Time Magazine article and thought ‘It kinda looks like that to me.’ We have the situation developing in New York with the Muslims building a community center two blocks away from Ground Zero, the media hypes it, and the country goes upside down. A Christian decides to burn a Qur’an in Florida, the media hypes it, and America goes upside down. We are trying to get a better grip on what is going on in our country. What is the situation that Muslims face each day in their lives?”

In between segments of the PBS documentary, Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet, people of different faiths at each table asked questions and shared information about what they knew about Islam. Many were surprised by Islam’s reverence for life, call to peace and demand for charity to those in need. The video excerpts started with Kevin James, a New York City Muslim and September 11 responder who became a firefighter because his Islamic faith deems saving one life as important as saving humanity.

Other clips included a Muslim government official who works hard at his job because his Islamic faith requires him to take action for justice;  an Imam who operates a soup kitchen serving mainly non-Muslims because his Islamic faith requires him to care for those in need; and a Muslim nurse practicing in Dearborn, Michigan. These and other clips can be viewed online at

People also discovered the similarities between Islam and Christianity. Both share the same Old Testament. And while Muslims do not believe that Jesus is God, they do hold him in high esteem as one of their prophets.

The video also answered another point of contention raised by those who fear our Muslim neighbors, “If Islam isn’t about terrorism, why aren’t any Muslims standing up against it?” The answer is that they are. The problem is that the media does not give them a platform. While everyone in West Michigan knows about the Qur’an burner and the supposed “Ground Zero Mosque,” few will hear about last night’s event. One reporter from the Grand Rapids Press was in attendance (though it is not known if she was on assignment) but no other media bothered to show up. That in spite of the fact that news releases were sent out well in advance of the event.

Perhaps that’s because good Muslims don’t make for sensational headlines. Or perhaps the motivations run deeper. After all, if we all decide we’re part of one human family where all deserve life, liberty and happiness, who will be left to fight the wars and pile up the profits for those in power?

For those reasons, providing spaces for face-to-face dialogue between Christians, Jews and Muslims to dialogue is a very admirable goal. Only as “we the people” understand the issues and take action to learn about each other will we be motivated to demand an end the madness in the Middle East and beyond.

Local organizations sponsoring the event included the Catholic Information Center, Bosnian Cultural Center, ICC Behar, Grand Rapids Area Center for Ecumenism (GRACE), Interfaith Dialogue Association, Islamic Center and Mosque of Grand Rapids and the Islamic Mosque and Religious Institute.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Kate Wheeler permalink
    October 8, 2010 3:24 pm

    Thanks for this report, Stelle. It’s heartening to hear about an area church taking this initiative.

    One thing that always troubles me about the blurred line in many people’s minds between the words “Muslim” and “extremist” (and how those two terms are so often linked together in the media), is that most Muslims do not appear to even view terrorists as true followers of Islam.

    One reason is that Muhammed tasked his followers specifically with the protection of Jews and Christians. The Qur’an states that Jews are specifically blessed by God. And Muhammed instructed Muslims to defend Christians from aggressors.

    So the attitude of extremists about waging a holy war against the people of these two faiths goes directly against the teachings of Islam. But Muslims as a whole are being tarred with the brush of a specific group whose actions betray those teachings. And, as you note, that injustice and the true attitude of Muslims about terrorism is rarely if ever given any play in the mainstream media.

  2. stelle permalink
    October 8, 2010 3:32 pm

    Thanks for the additional information, Kate. As one of my sons and my two grandchildren are Muslim, it’s always good to see other non-Muslims speaking out about this issue–and the very real threats the average Muslim American has to face every day.


  1. Anti-Muslim hysteria takes local toll « Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

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