The Cross Confronts Islamophobia

I have become convinced that much of the work that we, as Christians, as peace seekers, and as the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, have to do around all issues related to the Middle East and to Gun Violence in our own country is in countering Islamophobia.

This past weekend I attended the ordination service of Abbi Heimach-Snipes, a very active Activist Council member and good friend of mine. On my way to Laguardia airport in Queens, I saw the devastating news that an imam and his assistant had been shot in the head in Queens earlier that day as they were leaving a prayer service. Alauddin Akonjee and Thara Miah both died in the hospital later that day.

Although the NYPD is not yet calling this a hate crime or saying that it appears that the men were targeted because of their faith, it seems clear that is the case. Over the last years and months, rhetoric in the United States against Muslims has become vitriolic, and the New York Times reports that there are over 12 hate crimes per month against Muslims in the US.

During Abbi’s ordination service we all remembered our collective calling as the body of Christ to renounce that which is evil and profess that which gives life. We wrote down these things on ribbons and tied them to a cross as a reminder that the cross, which is at the center of the Christian faith, is a reminder both of the violence in this world and also of the new life and hope that the empty cross represents.

There were two Syrian Muslim women present at the ordination who are refugees who have been sponsored by several churches in Indianapolis, including Abbi’s home congregation of Irvington Presbyterian Church where the ordination service was held. Seeing the two women come up and tie their ribbons with Arabic writing on them to the cross was a powerful reminder to me that the cross calls us to stand in solidarity with those who are most persecuted, those who are being crucified today.

Given the statistics about hate crimes against Muslims and the rhetoric in our media today, it seems clear that Muslims are some of those being crucified in our society today. It is our calling as Christians to stand against Islamophobia. Especially because so much of the vitriol against Muslims today is done by and in the name of Christians, it is our responsibility as Christians to profess loudly and clearly our support of Muslims.

United for Peace and Justice defines “Islamophobia” as “the manufactured fear of Muslim people. It is directed against a range of communities including Arabs, South Asians, other regional and ethnic groups, and, generally, people perceived-as-being Muslim by others. Politicians, governments, and institutions promote and exploit distrust of Muslims to expand their political power and to rationalize war and domination. Islamophobia promotes injustice and systemic racism in which resources and security disparities are reinforced through socially-permitted prejudice, bigotry, scapegoating, division, hate crimes, discriminatory political and economic policies, intimidation, repression, state violence and militarism.”

This is also an opportunity for us as PPF to learn more about Islam so that we can be better advocates against Islamophobia in Christian communities. I invite all of us to commit to learning more about Islam and connecting more with Muslims so that we can learn from, support, and be ready to respond in solidarity if asked by our Muslims sisters and brothers. The story of Jesus’ life and death and his consistent siding with the persecuted calls us to this work with humility, as people who have much to learn and much work to do in our own faith tradition