Muslim community

IWU Workshop/Dinner Focuses on Religious Diversity

Tahera Ahmad, associate chaplain and director of interfaith engagement at Northwestern University, will lead a workshop from 4 to 5 p.m. in Illinois Wesleyan University's Memorial Center Davidson Room.

This workshop is for all students, faculty, and staff, and is designed to sharpen skills in both recognizing religious intolerance (especially anti-Semitism and Islamophobia) and supporting a religiously diverse campus where all worldviews are welcome.

The campus community is also invited to a 6 p.m. dinner and keynote address.

Anti-Hate Rally Commemorates Kansas Murder, Seeks Unity

Lenore Sobota

The Pantagraph

and Camille Taylor

Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe of the Moses Montefiore Congregation in Bloomington asked people attending a Not In Our Town anti-hate rally Thursday at Illinois Wesleyan University to join hands and repeat after her.

"We are not here to protest or rally against any group or individual, but to educate ourselves and our children and become more aware of what is happening around us. After you leave these doors, remember tonight, remember our stories, our cheers, our emotions and friendship, remember that we our one. Together, Let us be compassionate, kind, and respectful towards each other. We must see people for who they truly are and teach our children to take a stand against racism, bigotry and all forms of intolerance. Let us celebrate our diversity together and inspire and honor each other as brothers and sisters. -- Archana Shekara

“We are here. We are your brothers and sisters. We hear you. We believe you,” she said as the crowd of more than 150 people echoed her words. “Hatred and intolerance have no place here. We shall not fear. Love will hold us together as one family of humanity."

The gathering started with a mantra recited by a Hindu priest and the lighting of a candle to symbolize removal of darkness from the community.

Aishwarya Shekara (Photos by Mike Matejka)

Aishwarya Shekara (Photos by Mike Matejka)

Speaker after speaker talked about the need to support each other, to speak out against hatred and bigotry and to work for peace.

Imam Khalid Herrington

Imam Khalid Herrington

The rally took place in IWU's Hansen Student Center where the two dozen flags of other countries that ring the upper level took on special meaning.

“We are all here in solidarity as a community to stop hate together,” said IWU Provost Jonathan Green. “We are gathered here tonight to express love for our neighbors.”

But it was the personal stories of insults and slights, particularly those of high school students from Bloomington District 87 and McLean County Unit 5, that seemed to touch the crowd.

A student whose family is from India told of being asked in a social studies class what caste her family was from.

Another who is Muslim said the day she decided to wear her hijab to school she received "weird looks" or was ignored by people she knew.

A Hispanic student said she was told not to speak Spanish in school — “you're in America now,” they said.

And a student of mixed race related how, when she was only 6 years old, her mother, who is white, came to school for a program and another student asked if she was adopted.

Imam Khalid Herrington of the Islamic Center of McLean County experienced racism growing up in the 1970s with a mother who is white and a father who is black. When he became a Muslim in the mid-1990s, he encountered other bigotry, especially after the 9-11 attacks.

Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner and local law enforcement officers were on hand at the event. Below, Normal Mayor Chris Koos, right, and Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner stress the need for community solidarity.

Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner and local law enforcement officers were on hand at the event. Below, Normal Mayor Chris Koos, right, and Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner stress the need for community solidarity.

One day, Herrington, whose parents both served in the U.S. military, was told to “Go back to your country,” he said.

“I didn't know whether to laugh or cry,” he recalled.

But amid the stories of rude comments — or worse — there were also stories of feeling welcome in Bloomington-Normal and staying far longer than they ever thought they would.

Archana Shekara, a Not In Our Town member and one of the event's organizers, lived in India for 19 years, but she has lived in Bloomington-Normal for the last 24 years.

“Bloomington-Normal is my town. It's where I live. It's my home,” said Shekara, prompting applause from the crowd.

A number of speakers, representing different races, religions and nationalities took the stage at one point — immigrants and children of immigrants from countries such as France, Brazil, Bangladesh, India and Venezuela.

“This is what Bloomington-Normal looks like,” said Shekara.

The Rev. Susan Baller-Shepard of rural Bloomington warned that hate speech is becoming hate action in parts of America, but she emphasized that hate should not be answered by hate.

“We have to guard against lowering … our behavior to that of the haters,” she said.

Shekara urged people to report instances of hatred.

Her daughter, 17-year-old Aishwarya Shekara, said, “See us as the next generation of leaders who have the power to change our nation, even in these polarized times.”

Baller-Shepard said, "Let's continue to celebrate diversity, not just tolerate it, not just moan about it, but celebrate."

Herrington reminded the crowd: "We are not going to agree all of the time. We can still respect each other all of the time. We can try to understand each other all of the time."

Four of NIOTBN's nine Not In Our School (NIOS) schools also were represented at the rally. An Indian student translated the gathering's Hindi prayer into English, while students from Bloomington Junior High and Bloomington High School read a post-election letter written to them by their teacher assuring them of their safety.

Another BHS student read a prepared statement from the Bloomington District 87 School District affirming its support of all students. A Normal West High School student read a similar statement prepared by the Normal Unit 5 School District.

Other Indian, Muslim, biracial, and Latina students shared personal stories about being stereotyped, feeling singled out, and wanting to be seen as a human being first and foremost. Some of the students were the leaders of NIOS clubs; others were members/students from their schools.

A group of children from BCAI (Breaking Chains Advancing Increase) performed with dances reflecting the Indian culture. Their sponsor, Angelique Racki, is on the steering committee of NIOTBN, as chair of its Arts and Culture Committee.

Janet: Message of Mutual Love Central at Mosque

Janet Guaderrama

Voices of Reason, Action for a Better Tomorrow, and Indivisible IL-18

Members of local politically progressive groups joined Feb. 10 to visit the Masjid Ibrahim (Mosque) for their 1 pm Friday service at the invitation of  Shaikh Imam Abu-Emad Al-Talla (our first speaker at the Not In Our Town rally Feb. 1 at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts). The mosque is located at 2407 E Washington St. in Bloomington.

   Shaikh Imam Abu-Emad Al-Talla chats with Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe, left, and former First Christian Church Associate Minister Kelley Becker during last summer's Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal 20th Anniversary.   

 Shaikh Imam Abu-Emad Al-Talla chats with Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe, left, and former First Christian Church Associate Minister Kelley Becker during last summer's Not In Our Town: Bloomington-Normal 20th Anniversary. 

My experience began with "Hello," as I introduced myself to the Imam after the rally. He was very gracious and welcomed anyone to visit their service on Fridays. He was pleased when I told him that I had taken a photo of him during his speech and he asked that I share it with him. I sent the photo from my cell phone to his and that began the conversation about a visit to Masjid Ibrahim.

When we arrived today, we discovered several rituals that occur. The women enter through the left door in the back of the building, and men enter through the door to its right.

Several men graciously welcomed us and the women in our group removed our shoes and were seated in a room separate from the men. The Imam came back to welcome us before his service. We were joined by a gathering group of women worshipers coming from their homes and jobs for prayer. We could see the Imam speaking through windows and hear him through intercom. One of the women turned on a television on the wall and we could view him there also.

We were told that prayers happen 5 times a day in the building, but that Fridays are special, like Sundays are for Christians.

Most of the service was in Arabic, however, occasional English was used to convey the message so that we could understand.

I was particularly taken with the words, "Fly to Allah." We were urged to "Fly to Allah" as Allah (God) is everything and all praise to him. We fly to him to leave our worldly cares and worries, to thank him. We were urged to care for one another, to love each other, to befriend each other, to do charity, to accept everyone, Black and White, Muslim and not as we are all created by Allah.

The women welcomed us after the service was completed and we all had very warm and interesting conversations. The Imam came back after the service to thank us all for coming and welcomed us to come back. He also welcomed anyone to come to join them in prayer any Friday at 1 pm. (The service lasts 45 minutes).

We thanked our new friends for the kind welcome and agreed that we were all moved by our experience.

Muslim Student Association Plans Peaceful Rally

Illinois State University's Muslim Student Association (MSA) is sponsoring a Peaceful Rally from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 15, at ISU's Schroeder Hall.

"In light of all the recent events happening which includes preventing many innocent tourists and visa holders from entering our country, we will be holding a peaceful event to call for action and stand in solidarity against these unjust actions. I truly believe the Presidents actions are causing more harm than good in the world and in our community even though that may not have been his intentions. This is 2017 not 1950. We live in such a great country so let's do our best to make sure it stays that way and to bring awareness to the problems we are currently facing," MSA states.

"We were taught since a young age to stand up to bullies and to never let them bring us down. Do not let these unjust actions affect your daily lives in a negative way! Let's unite as a group and community and show our presence by standing up for our rights and for what we believe in.

"We have many international students on our campus and they should feel welcome here in the United States and at ISU. Let us stand in solidarity for their rights as well as the rights for everyone who might be affected by these actions when they should not be.

"It does not matter whether you are Muslim or Christian, black or white, male or female. We all live in the same community and we are all Normal. Lets stand together and show the world we can coexist in peace.

"Stay strong everyone and I hope to see you all soon."

MSA's mission is "to build a community for those interested in learning about the Islamic community as well as joining Muslim students together."

Stand Up Vigil to Address Muslim Ban

"Stand Up for Social Justice: No Muslim Ban" is the focus for February's monthly candle light vigil at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb.14, on the lawn in front of the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts.

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Participants are welcome to gather at Michael's for a bite directly after the vigil. Please send an RSVP to Linda.Unterman@gmail.com.

Participants are asked to bring non-partisan signs showing support for Muslim neighbors and immigration and opposition to deportation and the Muslim travel ban. Candles & some signs will be provided.

"Stand Up for Social Justice" is a Bloomington-Normal non-partisan coalition. See the group's page on Facebook.

At these second Tuesday monthly vigils, the group seeks to encourage our Bloomington-Normal community to show support to protect civil rights and human rights when at risk, promote social justice, and to safeguard our environment.

Solidarity Rally Addresses National Concerns

The Pantagraph

Josh Knight of Normal said he brought his 8-year-old son to a Not In Our Town Bloomington-Normal rally Wednesday night in Bloomington to show him how to be an American.

Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner joining hands with Bloomington's Imam Abu-Emad Al-Talla and Mayor Chris Koos of Normal. (Photo by Cristian Jaramillo/WGLT)

Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner joining hands with Bloomington's Imam Abu-Emad Al-Talla and Mayor Chris Koos of Normal. (Photo by Cristian Jaramillo/WGLT)

"I wanted to show him that we treat all people equally and that we instill in him the values of American culture that we believe in and that is freedom for all people and to be an open and welcoming person," said Knight.

Nadia Khusro, a Normal Community High School senior, said she was born in the United States but has Muslim relatives living in South Asia. 

"They might not be able to visit us because they are not Christian and they are not white," she said. "It makes me scared and it also makes me a little angry.

"They are my family, and they should have as much of a right to visit this country as anybody else."

They were among about 1,200 people who filled the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts auditorium to capacity in a show of support for their immigrant neighbors and to protest President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration, making the rally one of the largest in recent memory in the Twin Cities.

Imam Sheikh Abu Emad Al-Talla of Masjid Ibrahim, a Bloomington mosque, was the first of many speakers who brought the crowd to their feet when he said, "On behalf of all Muslims all over the world: We love you guys. We are part of the United States of America."

NIOT organized the event following Trump's order on Friday banning entry to the United States citizens of seven predominantly Muslim nations for 90 days, all refugees for 120 days and people from Syria indefinitely.

On its Facebook page, NIOT asked the public to come “stand with our Muslim and other neighbors.” It also asked elected officials to attend, affirm the First Amendment's protection of freedom of religion stand against a registry of people based on their faith.

Five people stood outside the BCPA to show support for Trump's immigration policy, including Ward 3 aldermanic candidate Gary Lambert.

Julia Reinthaler said the group was "demonstrating our support of President Trump in his efforts to improve our national security by putting together a system that will fully, thoroughly vet any immigrants coming into this country.

"We believe in immigration and we're pro-immigrant, but we are very much supportive of this administration's efforts to overhaul our system and better serve the national interest," she said.

In the event, Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner said he had mixed emotions about the event.

"I am so thrilled to see this room packed," he said. "I am saddened that we have to be here to try to defend the idea that all people are created equal."

Speaking of the United States as a nation of immigrants, Normal Mayor Chris Koos spoke of his family's Irish and German roots.

"They came here because they left a hellish environment where they could no longer thrive," he said. "So they traveled halfway around the world to find a place where they could better their lives and their family's lives and the lives of their descendants.  

"So today if you come to our community from South Asia, from Mexico, Central America, from Sudan, from Libya and the five other now-named countries, and you come here to find a better way for you and your family we welcome you.

"If you choose us, we choose you. Welcome home," he added, drawing a standing ovation.

The crowd continued to applaud and stand as the two mayors and Al-Talla clasped raised hands in a show of solidarity.

Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe of the Moses Montefiore Temple in Bloomington urged residents not to live as strangers.

"During the past several generations many of my people have lived as strangers in lands not ours," she said. "On occasion we were treated well. Most of the time not.

"There was a time when our nation closed its doors on Jews escaping persecution. While some found safety in other countries, many were refused and ultimately perished in the Holocaust," said Dubowe, adding, "We cannot make this mistake again."

Mandava Rao of the Hindu Temple Bloomington-Normal read some Hindu mantras, and the Rev. Molly Ward, an Episcopal priest, closed with a prayer.

"This meant a lot to us — such tremendous support and tremendous energy from the whole community regardless of their faith, regardless of their ethnicity," said Mohammed Zaman, president of Masjid Ibrahim, at the conclusion of the  90-minute event.

"This shows that when a community gets together they can fight any evil, whether it's national, international or on any level."

Twin Citians United in Face of Nationwide Violence

The Pantagraph/WJBC/WGLT/NIOTBN

Residents came together from the community to remember the recent  victims of violence and racism throughout the country on Monday night, as Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church Rev. Frank McSwain led the gathering in the rallying call, “United, we stand; divided, we fall.”

Moses Montefiore Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe and Imam Abu Emad AL-Talla chat with Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner prior to the vigil.

Moses Montefiore Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe and Imam Abu Emad AL-Talla chat with Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner prior to the vigil.

Leaders from five area religious denominations came together at Bloomington First Christian Church for what is becoming a hallmark of Bloomington-Normal’s Not In Our Town efforts -- a bringing together of all faiths and even those questioning their faith. The prayer service included a reading of names, a lighting of candles, and a moment of silence for victims and the families of shooting victims in Dallas, Minnesota, and Louisiana.

"If we don't start living together as people, I promise we are already dead as a community," McSwain warned.

The vigil included chanting, or a Sholka (Song) to bring in light by local Hindu Priest Divaspathi Bhat. Imam Abu Emad AL-Talla of the Bloomington mosque Masjid Ibrahim provided a meditation on light and the service included a later reference to the Martin Luther King quote, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can drive out darkness," while Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe of the Moses Montefiore Temple in Bloomington issued a call to action which could be different for each person -- "We can't just stand here after this night. Think about what you can do to make a difference in people's lives."

Imam Abu Emad and Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church Senior Past Frank McSwain join in a gesture of solidarity.

Imam Abu Emad and Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church Senior Past Frank McSwain join in a gesture of solidarity.

First Christian Senior Pastor Jim Warren, the father of a large multicultural family, said he's tired of holding vigils and rallies. "I'm tired of us saying we are going to do something and then we don't." He suggested, "reach out to those who are different from us.  Build a community of compassion."

“We really need to see each other as human beings,” said Mike Matejka from Not In Our Town . “That’s people in the community, that’s people of diverse background, that’s our law enforcement. There is so much tension in our nation right now, this is an opportunity to come together in our diversity and say we’re all human, we all support each other, we need each other to heal .”

“It is really beginning to seem that way, that we can’t find civil ways to discourse,” added Anne Libert, and retired teacher from Unit 5 and Not In Our Town volunteer.  “We seem to want to attack the other and blame the other, no matter who the other is.”

Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner said he was heartened by the turn out at First Christian Church and the standing ovation given officers there, but he said the people who need to hear the call for unity, empathy, and tolerance were likely not there to hear it. The challenge, he says, is reaching that group. Heffner is interviewed in an upcoming Twin Cities Stories blog article, along with local NAACP head Quincy Cummings.

Bill Kellett of Normal said he came because he needed reassurance that something like the police shootings in Dallas, Texas, would not happen here. “I know our town is different and I can’t see that happening here,” he said. “Yet, I’m glad that we have people in this community who care enough that show that we won’t tolerate that kind of hatred here.”

Sam Ridgway of Bloomington said people need events like this where they could gather peacefully.

“I want to be around people who are committed to making this area a better place,” he said. “I am thankful that we are a smaller community and can have something like this in a church, rather  than downtown near a courthouse where it’s in an open area and you are a little scared.”

Janet Merriman of Bloomington argued “people are putting their lives on the line just by going out and protesting, but here, we are letting people know that we see what’s going on in the world and we aren’t going to let it happen here.”

“Brothers and sisters, whatever they are.  Black, white, tall, short, rich, poor. They are brothers,” said Imam Abu Emad AL-Talla.

“To claim light in darkness, to remember the lives and potential that have been lost as a result of violence against our brothers and sisters,” NIOTBN Faith and Outreach Chairman and First Christian Associate Minister Kelly Becker of First Community Christian Church maintained. “And to look forward to a different future for our neighborhoods, our community and our nation.”

Twin Cities Islamic Leaders Hail Interfaith Communication

Knowledge, communication, and understanding is key to countering extremism and “the essence of a very healthy, very dynamic community,” a Normal psychiatrist and Islamic community leader argues.

Faisal Ahmed, interim president with the Islamic Center of Bloomington-Normal, hails Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal in helping lead the way to interfaith, intercultural understanding. In December, reacting to Islamophobia sentiments in the wake of the San Bernardino shootings and inflammatory presidential campaign rhetoric, Twin Cities Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders united in a NIOTBN-sponsored vigil aimed at building solidarity and furthering the effort “to protect us from extremism,” said Ahmed, a pediatric psychiatrist with Advocate Children’s Medical Group.

Bloomington’s Masjid Ibrahim mosque recently held a public open house along with Moses Montefiore synagogue and the Hindu Temple of Bloomington-Normal – Ahmed stressed the need “to let people know actually who we are.” Ahmed argued “this community has been blessed.”

“As we’ve seen all around the world, extremism has been widespread,” Ahmed acknowledged at Tuesday’s NIOTBN’s “beautiful, wonderful” 20th anniversary celebration downtown in downtown Bloomington. “I think these events and these efforts offer a ray of hope that we can actually fight this. Better communication, better integration among us will lead to better results. We can fight this extremism at any level with more coordination and more interfaith effort.”

Mohammed Zaman, president of the mosque that has served local Muslims since 2007, agreed NIOTBN amd local spiritual leaders are “doing a really, really excellent job in bringing the communities together.” Tuesday night, Masjid Ibrahim Imam Abu Emad helped lead an opening blessing with Jewish, Christian, and Hindu community representatives.

“Basically, it’s about a dialogue between the communities,” Zaman held. “We need to come out of our isolation, get together, and have frequent dialogue between the communities.”

Watch Zaman and Ahmed’s complete interviews for more on communication between communities.

Kelley: A Safe Place For All in an Unsafe World

The Rev. Kelley Becker

Bloomington First Christian Church

While attending the NIOT 20th anniversary celebration Tuesday night, I shared with a friend that I was thinking about the community events I have been part of in the last two days and how they are all connected. My friend reminded me that writing about these experiences might be a great way to process them. So, here are some thoughts as I initially process the last couple of days.

The Rev. John Libert and Imam Abu Emad were among Twin Cities spiritual leaders who dedicated Tuesday's NIOTBN 20th anniversary celebration.

The Rev. John Libert and Imam Abu Emad were among Twin Cities spiritual leaders who dedicated Tuesday's NIOTBN 20th anniversary celebration.

On Monday night, I attended the 2016 LGBTQ Spirituality Forum, sponsored by the Prairie Pride Coalition. It was a moving experience to hear ministry colleagues speak words of welcome to members of the LGBTQ community gathered there. The faith communities represented were First Christian Church, New Covenant Community Church, Hope Church, Unitarian Universalist, Moses Montefiore Temple, and Illinois Wesleyan’s Evelyn Chapel. These communities have stated publicly that they are safe, welcoming, inclusive places for members of the LGBTQ community…and all of God’s people.

A block off the Old Courthouse square, The Bistro -- a social center of activity for the Twin Cities' LGBT community -- offers a message of strength in the wake of the Orlando tragedy.

A block off the Old Courthouse square, The Bistro -- a social center of activity for the Twin Cities' LGBT community -- offers a message of strength in the wake of the Orlando tragedy.

One of the questions asked of the panel was, “Are there other faith communities in Bloomington-Normal that are welcoming of the LGBTQ community and if so, who are they?” That question opened the door for a conversation about the differences between welcoming people to attend versus welcoming people to be who they were created to be by participating fully in the life of the faith community. The Reverend Elyse Nelson Winger from IWU challenged us, as clergy, to encourage our colleagues to publicly support and fully welcome everyone, specifically the LGBTQ community. She said, “Now is the time…actually, it has been time for a long while, but now is really the time.” She is right. It is time. If you represent God, welcome and embrace all of God’s people. Now.

Following that event, on Tuesday I participated in Beyond the Rainbow: Build Your Strength as an Ally for LGBTQ Youth training event, sponsored by Project Oz. Gathered there were teachers, social workers, crisis team members, and even a few ministers. We heard stories of people who have been deeply hurt because they have been designated the “other” by pockets of our community, one pocket being some faith communities. We learned new language, new ways to listen, and new ways to be allies to the young people in the LGBTQ community.

I was struck again by the importance of Elyse’s words. After hearing, again, the damage religion and other aspects of our culture are doing to the young people of the LGBTQ community and being reminded, again, of my own privilege, I am more committed than ever to leading in ways that breathe life and hope into my brothers and sisters of all faith traditions, gender identities, sexual orientations, skin colors, and abilities. When we, as leaders, are silent, we send a powerful message of apathy and exclusion. When we exclude anyone from our community, the community is less than it could be. We are better when we include and welcome. God created diversity on purpose. It is time we fully embrace this gift from God.

Finally, I had the privilege of welcoming my colleagues from Moses Montefiore Temple, the United Church of Christ, Masjid Ibrahim mosque and the Hindu Temple as they blessed the NIOT anniversary event last night. I was moved, first of all, that they said, “Yes,” when I asked them to participate in this event. And second, their words of welcome and community resonated deep in my soul. I thought to myself…we all want the same things. We want to experience sacredness in our community, and in each other, every day. We all want a place to belong…a place of safety.

And then Tuesday night, after a long day, I learned of the act of terrorism in Istanbul. I remembered anew that the glimmers of hope I have experienced in our community the last couple of days need to be more than glimmers. They need to be sparks that ignite a passion for justice and peace, not just in Bloomington-Normal, but all over the world.

Friends, the world is not as it was intended to be. We must continue our work toward wholeness in a world that is, in many places and ways, so broken. Let us do this work together, healing the pieces one heart at a time. Shalom.

Local Muslim, Jewish Leaders Decry Orlando Violence

Twin Cities Muslim and Jewish leaders joined in condemning last weekend’s mass murders at an Orlando night club frequented by LGBT individuals and cautioned against blaming the Islamic religion for the actions of a few.

In a letter to the Prairie Pride Coalition, the Islamic Center of Bloomington-Normal this week repudiated the Orlando shootings:

“The entire Muslim community of Bloomington-Normal, including Masjid Ibrahim and Islamic Center of Bloomington-Normal, condemns the gruesome and barbaric attack in Orlando and we offer our heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of all those killed or injured,” it stated. “We join our fellow Americans in repudiating anyone or any group that would claim to justify or excuse such an appalling act of violence and terror.”

Meanwhile, talking with WGLT Radio, the Islamic Center’s Sheheryar Muftee maintained attacks like the mass shooting at the Pulse night club might be less likely to happen here. Muftee held local Muslims are a tight-knit community that rejects violence, and “all of us know each other pretty well.”

“If people are not attending the mosque, we check on them,” he related. “We have contacts with the joint terrorism task force of the FBI and local law enforcement, so I think it's very, very unlikely something like this could happen, but no one can definitely say."

Muftee said leaders at Bloomington-Normal's three mosques often preach against the use of violence. "The three mosques are very proactive in preaching against hate of any kind, preaching against strong views on religion. We have lots of programs for kids and youth and we try to show them positive things in their religion and keep them away from minority hate groups that are out there," he said.

Muftee said ISIS and other terrorist groups, as well as the San Bernardino and Orlando attackers, "call themselves Muslim but they are not practicing Muslims. They are taking the name of Islam and dragging it through the mud."

He called the phrase "radical Islamic terrorist" an unfair characterization ofthe vast majority of the world's 1.1 billion Muslims.

Muftee believes the Orlando attack was a hate crime directed at gays rather than a politically motivated act of terror. He said he also believes shooter Omar Mateen, who was killed by police, suffered from severe mental illness that was influenced by jihadist propaganda.

He said homosexuals would be welcome to join Muslims in prayer at the Islamic Center.

Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe of Bloomington’s Moses Montefiore Congregation admonished against targeting the Muslim community as “scapegoats” for the Orlando shootings or other acts committed by extremists.   

“There are more good Jews and more good Muslims and good Christians that we do know about,” Dubowe argued. “We tend to be drawn to those individuals who claim that they represent us. We are all God’s children, and I was pleased to see what the Muslim community wrote – it was a very powerful statement, and it really said a lot about the Bloomington-Normal community.”

Dubowe participated in a December vigil with local Christian and Islamic leaders in response to concerns about growing Islamophobia. Rather than pointing cultural fingers, she believes Americans should focus after tragedies such as the Pulse killings on “what we should do,” whether it’s re-examining enforcement of gun regulations, fostering mental health resources, or generating dialogue on broader social attitudes.

As Dubowe along with spiritual leaders nationwide mourn the Orlando victims, emphasized that her temple embraces the LGBT communities and that while some within those communities may feel pressure to suppress their gender identity at church,  “our ‘closets’ are WIDE open.” Because of the Holocaust, earlier Russian pogroms against the Jews, and other assaults on her own community, Dubowe sees strong Jewish empathy with communities that also have been “pushed down.”

Moses Montefiore is a Reform Jewish congregation, “the most liberal of the whole Jewish community,” Dubowe notes. She stresses the need for the church to reach out to all those “on the fringes of society,” including LGBT individuals and those with disabilities, and the temple is working to connect with African-American members of the Jewish community.

“We have been very supportive in recognizing the LGBT members of our community,” the rabbi stressed. “We recognize that each one of us is a child of God – no one less than others. We’ve always wanted to create a safer space for them – not only in God’s eyes, but in our eyes. Everyone has the right to celebrate their life, their love, and who they are. Moses Montefiore Congregation welcomes all.”

Recently, the Reform National Federation Temple Youth movement issued what Dubowe deemed a “very powerful statement” recognizing that transgendered and other members of the LGBT community merit full rights and respect, and the federation is offering transgender training to help members better serve that community.

The Bookshelf: Sociopolitics, Sex, and Religion

In tough social, political, and interpersonal times, where do you go? How about the library?

The Normal Public Library's latest nonfiction acquisitions offer in-depth perspectives on the religious conflicts that continue to reverberate in the post-9/11 world, the racial dynamics that spark heated debate and dialogue in our cities, and the gender politics that influence individual rights and opportunities.

Here's a sampling:

Not In God's Name: In this powerful and timely book, one of the most admired and authoritative religious leaders of our time tackles the phenomenon of religious extremism and violence committed in the name of God. If religion is perceived as being part of the problem, Rabbi Sacks argues, then it must also form part of the solution. When religion becomes a zero-sum conceit—that is, my religion is the only right path to God, therefore your religion is by definition wrong—and individuals are motivated by what Rabbi Sacks calls “altruistic evil,” violence between peoples of different beliefs appears to be the only natural outcome. But through an exploration of the roots of violence and its relationship to religion, and employing groundbreaking biblical analysis and interpretation, Rabbi Sacks shows that religiously inspired violence has as its source misreadings of biblical texts at the heart of all three Abrahamic faiths -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Why Be Jewish?: Completed in December 2013, just weeks before he passed away, WHY BE JEWISH? expresses Edgar Bronfman's awe, respect, and deep love for his faith and heritage. Bronfman walks readers through the major tenets and ideas in Jewish life, fleshing out their meaning and offering proof texts from the Jewish tradition gleaned over his many years of study with some of the greatest teachers in the Jewish world. Bronfman shares In WHY BE JEWISH? insights gleaned from his own personal journey and makes a compelling case for the meaning and transcendence of a secular Judaism that is still steeped in deep moral values, authentic Jewish texts, and a focus on deed over creed or dogma.

We Too Sing America: Many of us can recall the targeting of South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh people in the wake of 9/11. We may be less aware, however, of the ongoing racism directed against these groups in the past decade and a half. In We Too Sing America, nationally renowned activist Deepa Iyer catalogs recent racial flashpoints, from the 2012 massacre at the Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, to the violent opposition to the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and to the Park 51 Community Center in Lower Manhattan. Author Iyer asks whether hate crimes should be considered domestic terrorism and explores the role of the state in perpetuating racism through detentions, national registration programs, police profiling, and constant surveillance.

The Long Emancipation: Perhaps no event in American history arouses more impassioned debate than the abolition of slavery. Answers to basic questions about who ended slavery, how, and why remain fiercely contested more than a century and a half after the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. In The Long Emancipation, Ira Berlin draws upon decades of study to offer a framework for understanding slavery’s demise in the United States. Freedom was not achieved in a moment, and emancipation was not an occasion but a near-century-long process—a shifting but persistent struggle that involved thousands of men and women. Berlin teases out the distinct characteristics of emancipation, weaving them into a larger narrative of the meaning of American freedom. The most important factor was the will to survive and the enduring resistance of enslaved black people themselves. In striving for emancipation, they were also the first to raise the crucial question of their future status. If they were no longer slaves, what would they be?

The Black Presidency: A provocative and lively deep dive into the meaning of America's first black presidency, from “one of the most graceful and lucid intellectuals writing on race and politics today” (Vanity Fair). Michael Eric Dyson explores the powerful, surprising way the politics of race have shaped Barack Obama’s identity and groundbreaking presidency. How has President Obama dealt publicly with race—as the national traumas of Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and Walter Scott have played out during his tenure? What can we learn from Obama's major race speeches about his approach to racial conflict and the black criticism it provokes? Dyson explores whether Obama’s use of his own biracialism as a radiant symbol has been driven by the president’s desire to avoid a painful moral reckoning on race. And he sheds light on identity issues within the black power structure, telling the fascinating story of how Obama has spurned traditional black power brokers, significantly reducing their leverage. 

Negroland: At once incendiary and icy, mischievous and provocative, celebratory and elegiac — here is a deeply felt meditation on race, sex, and American culture through the prism of author Margo Jefferson’s rarefied upbringing and education among a black elite concerned with distancing itself from whites and the black generality while tirelessly measuring itself against both. Born in upper-crust black Chicago—her father was for years head of pediatrics at Provident, at the time the nation’s oldest black hospital; her mother was a socialite—Margo Jefferson has spent most of her life among (call them what you will) the colored aristocracy, the colored elite, the blue-vein society. Since the nineteenth century they have stood apart, these inhabitants of Negroland, “a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty.” Reckoning with the strictures and demands of Negroland at crucial historical moments—the civil rights movement, the dawn of feminism, the fallacy of postracial America—Jefferson brilliantly charts the twists and turns of a life informed by psychological and moral contradictions. Aware as it is of heart-wrenching despair and depression, this book is a triumphant paean to the grace of perseverance.
 

Show Me A Hero: Not in my backyard -- that's the refrain commonly invoked by property owners who oppose unwanted development. Such words assume a special ferocity when the development in question is public housing. Lisa Belkin penetrates the prejudices, myths, and heated emotions stirred by the most recent trend in public housing as she re-creates a landmark case in riveting detail, showing how a proposal to build scattered-site public housing in middle-class neighborhoods nearly destroyed an entire city and forever changed the lives of many of its citizens.

Trans Portraits: A fascinating collective memoir of the lives and experiences of 34 transgender people, in their own voices.

The Gay Revolution: The sweeping story of the modern struggle for gay, lesbian, and trans rights—from the 1950s to the present—based on amazing interviews with politicians, military figures, legal activists, and members of the entire LGBT community who face these challenges every day. The fight for gay, lesbian, and trans civil rights—the years of outrageous injustice, the early battles, the heart-breaking defeats, and the victories beyond the dreams of the gay rights pioneers—is the most important civil rights issue of the present day. Based on rigorous research and more than 150 interviews, The Gay Revolution tells this unfinished story not through dry facts but through dramatic accounts of passionate struggles, with all the sweep, depth, and intricacies only award-winning activist, scholar, and novelist like Lillian Faderman can evoke. The Gay Revolution begins in the 1950s, when law classified gays and lesbians as criminals, the psychiatric profession saw them as mentally ill, the churches saw them as sinners, and society victimized them with irrational hatred. Against this dark backdrop, a few brave people began to fight back, paving the way for the revolutionary changes of the 1960s and beyond. Faderman discusses the protests in the 1960s; the counter reaction of the 1970s and early eighties; the decimated but united community during the AIDS epidemic; and the current hurdles for the right to marriage equality.

The Only Woman in the Room: In 2005, when Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard, asked why so few women, even today, achieve tenured positions in the hard sciences, Eileen Pollack set out to find the answer. A successful fiction writer, Pollack had grown up in the 1960s and ’70s dreaming of a career as a theoretical astrophysicist. Denied the chance to take advanced courses in science and math, she nonetheless made her way to Yale. There, despite finding herself far behind the men in her classes, she went on to graduate summa cum laude, with honors, as one of the university’s first two women to earn a bachelor of science degree in physics. And yet, isolated, lacking in confidence, starved for encouragement, she abandoned her ambition to become a physicist. Years later, spurred by the suggestion that innate differences in scientific and mathematical aptitude might account for the dearth of tenured female faculty at Summer’s institution, Pollack thought back on her own experiences and wondered what, if anything, had changed in the intervening decades. Based on six years interviewing her former teachers and classmates, as well as dozens of other women who had dropped out before completing their degrees in science or found their careers less rewarding than they had hoped, The Only Woman in the Room is a bracingly honest, no-holds-barred examination of the social, interpersonal, and institutional barriers confronting women—and minorities—in the STEM fields.

Everyday Sexism: The Everyday Sexism Project was founded by writer and activist Laura Bates in April 2012. It began life as a website where people could share their experiences of daily, normalized sexism, from street harassment to workplace discrimination to sexual assault and rape. The Project became a viral sensation, attracting international press attention from The New York Times to French Glamour, Grazia South Africa, to the Times of India and support from celebrities such as Rose McGowan, Amanda Palmer, Mara Wilson, Ashley Judd, James Corden, Simon Pegg, and many others. The project has now collected over 100,000 testimonies from people around the world and launched new branches in 25 countries worldwide. The project has been credited with helping to spark a new wave of feminism.

 

 

Meet Your Muslim Neighbors Pt. 2 April 16

The Twin Cities' Muslim community is sponsoring a second open house to help area residents of all cultures learn about Islam.

The open house is 4-6 p.m. April 16 at the Islamic Center of Bloomington/Normal, 2911 Gill St., Suite 6, Bloomington. Based on the recent open house at Bloomington's Masjid Ibriham mosque, seats will fill quickly, so to reserve a space, RSVP to events@usicbn.org.

"If you didn't get a chance to visit the mosque during the last open house, now is your chance," suggests Kelley Becker, associate minister with Bloomington First Christian Church and Faith and Outreach chair with Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal. "Our Muslim brothers and sisters will welcome you warmly!"

See program on attached invitation.