InterFaith21: Routine acts of kindness contrast with divisive rhetoric

By C.B. Hanif

“For those of us who experienced 9/11 in America, our hearts were heavy in two respects. One, because of the senseless loss of innocent life. But then there was a double blow to us, because in the process, the religion of Al-Islam was blemished, by the conduct of people who called themselves doing something in the name of Islam.”

Those thoughts come from David Shaheed, Superior Court Judge in Indianapolis, Ind. He’s also an assistant imam, chairman of the Interfaith Alliance and one of the founding members of the Coalition for Good Government.

He’s a sign of the longtime positive participation of Muslims in American life — and as such, someone of whom the Rev. Terry Jones of Gainesville might find it hard to conceive.

Shaheed’s comments, from a previous lecture at Yale, underscore Jones’ mistake at the foundation of much of the angst of recent days: the failure to distinguish between the overwhelming majority of Muslims — good people living their lives alongside those of other faiths or no particular faith — and the comparatively few but murderous extremists. Even when the former are labeled “moderate Muslims,” they wrongly get blamed for the latter.

It’s that conflation of blame that had Jones threatening to burn copies of the Quran on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks against America — and Islam. That, in turn, brought him the condemnation even of folks who admittedly know little about Muslims, but who recognize the contradiction of a purported man of faith burning other people’s religious texts.

With the reverend having backed off, the focus shifted back to the Islamic cultural center in Lower Manhattan that has been misidentified as “the mosque at ground zero.”

Again the same misperceptions persist. The proposed equivalent of a YMCA or Jewish Community Center not only would serve the hundreds of thousands of New York City’s Muslims — policemen, firemen, teachers, lawyers, accountants, cab drivers, etc., its very concept serves notice to the extremists that Muslim Americans in particular are not with their program — and that perhaps they should take a look at America’s pluralistic expression of Islam.

Unfortunately, the rhetoric of Jones and others has encouraged verbal and physical attacks against innocent Americans already twice victimized by 9/11.

In contrast, countless other individuals and organizations made plans to pray, read the Quran or otherwise support their Muslim neighbors, co-workers and fellow citizens in the face of the reverend’s spiritual assault.

Members of the Delray Beach Interfaith Clergy Association, on a recent Ramadan evening, joined a fast-breaking dinner at the Islamic Center of Boca Raton.

And at the clergy’s September meeting, their speaker, retired Army Maj. Joseph Bernadel — also founder of the Toussaint L’Overture High School in Boynton Beach, and representative of the Haitian Diaspora on the Haitian Reconstruction Commission — gave a warm nod to Imam Yahya Islam of Columbus, Ga., who had delivered to the school a U-Haul truckload of spontaneously collected Haiti relief items from his congregation.

That was a just another routine act of kindness among good people, as when Heartsong Methodist Church opened its doors for the congregation across the street when that Memphis Islamic Center’s renovations weren’t completed in time for worship services during Ramadan.

It also was a reminder of the increasing awareness that the unity of humanity is our ace in the race against insanity. Said one woman of the church’s example of “What Would Jesus Do” — as opposed to Jones’ misguided plan: “We share Earth together. So what’s the difference between sharing Earth and sharing a street?”

C.B. Hanif is a writer and inter-religous affairs consultant. Find him at

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