By Susan Schwartz, TMO
One of the most corrosive elements in our society is Islamophobia, a well funded and staffed industry which, to the surprise of no one, shifted into high gear after the tragedy of 9/11. Muslims have been its victims, and Muslims have, through their community outreach, been its stalwart opponents. Their solution has been simple, but not easy: to persevere in the truth.
The Los Angeles area remembered and commemorated the tragedy of 9-11 that took place a decade ago. Two events were held: a Health Fair that honored first responders which took place at the Islamic Center of Southern California (ICSC), and an ecumenical prayer service held in the historic Los Angeles down town area at St Johns Cathedral.
The ICSC is the site of the first Masjid in Los Angeles. Saturday it played host to first responders and city officials, including keynote speaker, Kevin James, a Muslim firefighter who was at the World Trade Center when the planes struck. Mr James spoke of the first responders he worked with, many of whom were injured or killed in the line of duty.
Mr. James further said that he was puzzled when recent Muslim immigrants to the United States spoke as if being Muslims made them outsiders. He reminded his audience that Islam was a part of the America fabric and that Muslim explorers from Africa were here before Christopher Columbus. In addition, he continued, one third of the slaves brought to this country were Muslim though many were forced to adopt, albeit superficially, the Christianity of their masters.
Also honored were: Captain ll Sean W. Conway of the Los Angeles Fire Department; Reserve Chief Michael Leum of the LA Sheriffâ€™s Department, and Officer Mike Odel of the Los Angeles Police Department. Like Mr. James, emotion cloaked their acceptance speeches as they recalled comrades injured and killed.
City Council President Eric Garcetti recalled the events of 9/11 and its aftermath. He said that in Los Angeles people seemed to be dividing and standing alone because of the tragedy. It was the ICSC and its members that wove together the tapestry that was and again could be Los Angeles. In the midst of considerable hate and suspicion, these Muslims made us all stand together.
Dr. Maher Hathout, the founder of ICSC and a man celebrated in the area by Muslims and non Muslims alike, summed up the program. He said that in the beginning of fear is the voice of courage. It tells one to enter a burning building that others are exiting. It is, he said, the voice of God.
Sponsors of the event were the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC); The Islamic Center of Southern California; the UMMA Clinic, the American Muslim Health Professionals, The Council of American Pakistan Affairs; American Muslim Womenâ€™s Empowerment Council; UPLIFT, and the Guibord Center.
On Sunday September 11th an interfaith service was held at St Johnâ€™s Episcopal Church. The event was sponsored by the Guilbord Center, an interfaith organization dedicated to celebrating what the different American religions have that unite them. The service was titled: Finding Hope in the Holy. Representatives of different faiths read from their holy books. Jihad Turk, the Religious Director of the Islamic Center of Southern California, spoke for the Islamic faith. Each speaker poured water into a cistern upon the completion of his or her address.
The congregants answered each spokesperson with a prayer of hope and commitment
Children born since September 11, 2001 were presented with saplings watered by the above cited cistern. These children are the hope of the future and the event was a pledge that all those who were present would work to make that future a just and peaceful one for them.
Among the co sponsoring groups was: MPAC, the South Coast Interfaith Council, The Islamic Center of San Gabriel, Progressive Christians Uniting, and the ICSC.