Paris scenic

On November 22, YWCA Rockford, Muslim Association of Greater Rockford (MAGR), as well as many additional members of the local faith community joined together to honor the victims and families of the November Paris and Beirut terrorist attacks, and to support for the area’s Muslim population. Arshad Shaikh, MAGR President, shared with us the thoughts he carried with him as his spoke to the 100-plus supporters who gathered at the mosque:

Today’s vigil is very important to all of us as Americans and humanity, but for Muslims, it is very personal. Our hearts today bleed for the victims of the Paris tragedy and we pray for the families who are suffering in France. We pray that God Almighty heals the grieving hearts of those in France who have lost everything and provide solace and patience to the families of these innocent victims. Sadly, this violence spares no one. We also today at this vigil, make this a vigil for every innocent soul that has been tyrannized by violent extremism in all its forms. We pray for Beirut, Lebanon where more than 40 civilians were massacred by violent extremism from ISIS. Just this past Friday, militant gunmen raided a hotel in Mali and shot at anything that moved, killing at least 19. We are here today to pray for the world. We pray for all countries worldwide suffering the loss of loved ones at the hands of extremist violence, systemic racism and apartheid. We also pray for the thousands killed in collateral damage during military campaigns. We stand united today to condemn violence and terrorism, but this is only the beginning. The only way to combat the ideology of terrorism and extremism is to not fall prey to fear.

Amongst all religious groups, Muslims have been mourning the daily loss of life from violent extremism in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, so much so that we now have a refugee population and mass migration not seen since the 2nd World War. Please do not refer to ISIS by its full name; they are not a state, country nor caliphate. To have the term Islamic in their acronym is a farce, it is a fraud and it is an assault on the teachings and beauty of the Islamic faith. They must not be recognized. They have nothing to do with Islam. They are a cancer to the Islamic tradition and have slaughtered innocents from all faiths and have killed more Muslims than any other group, running deep into the thousands.

Yes, today’s vigil is personal for Muslims everywhere, but especially for American Muslims. Why? We unfortunately have a rising wave of Islamophobia in this country in much the same way we’ve had with anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism. If American Muslims do not define Islam correctly, someone else will define it for them. Here’s a contrast that you don’t hear in the news, when the Prophet Muhammad and his followers were facing bodily harm and persecution from the wealthy, aristocratic Arabs in Arabia and had to physically defend themselves, the Prophet forbade cutting down trees, harming women, children, priests/monks, animals (unless for consumption), churches/temples were respected and not to be destroyed. He commanded being good to prisoners and feeding them and never forced anyone to convert to Islam. This is real Islam. ISIS has nothing to do with Islam.

We are here today to make it clear that the killing of innocent civilians is against all religious traditions and is against the core belief of every single one of us. Muslims in this country should not feel apologetic for being Muslims. We are as American as apple pie right down to the many Muslims who fought in George Washington’s army, as the 17th-18th century Muslims who settled in Georgia, Iowa and New Mexico, and right down to the countless numbers who came before Columbus and settled in the Americas in the 1300s in Brazil, Honduras and Mexico from West Africa . We are horrified at the tragedy that occurred in Paris just over a week ago and we pray that God Almighty bring the all the perpetrators and their supporters to justice.

We must remember that we are one brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity that believes in peace. It is a beautiful thing to have diversity. That is not only the foundation of this country but also of Islam. The Constitution of Medina established by the Prophet Muhammad decreed that the citizens of the Islamic state were one and indivisible regardless of religion and were to be protected by Islamic law. In doing so, this Constitution created a tolerant, pluralistic government which protected religious freedom with clear rejection of elitism, and racism. These are the ideals of America and these are the ideals of Islam.

God loves beauty, God loves diversity. He loves diversity in as much as he has created the plants, the animals and mountains of various hues and colors, as He has also done for the human being. The only way we can unite amongst ourselves as a nation, as America as it was meant to be, is by embracing, celebrating and accepting our differences. That is unification. The bad side of politics of this nation, and every nation that seeks to divide its people feeds on the pulp of uniformity. Uniformity can never lead to unification. There cannot be successful interfaith work if we do not speak out against oppression and systematic racism of all forms. It is time to lay it all on the table.

We all must agree to trust one another, to defend one another, to think good of one another and not allow anyone from overseas, our own government or someone directly in our midst to divide us and break our special bond. We will be there for you my dear friends as we know you will be there for us. We have a common purpose and goal. And let’s also remember to celebrate our diversity as that is the way and example of the Prophets of God. And remember to live life with purpose and meaning. I often remember Martin Luther King’s famous advice that “If a man has not discovered something that he is willing to die for, he is not fit to live”. May God Almighty bless America with a righteous young generation, may He bless our children to build a better future than that we have been able to build in this land and stand together hand in hand as Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and other faiths as soldiers of peace and may they uphold the dignity and respect of this country and serve as a role model for the rest of the world. Ameen, Amen. God bless America. Thank you.