09/22/12: Interfaith groups react to anti-Muslim film, condemn violence abroad

Interfaith groups react to anti-Muslim film, condemn violence abroad

By Samer Hijazi

Saturday, 09.22.2012, 05:34pm- Arab American News

DEARBORN — Last Saturday local interfaith religious leaders gathered at the Islamic House of Wisdom (IHW) in Dearborn Heights to condemn any form of violence in relation to the movie "Innocence of Muslims" which has garnered a fire-storm of controversy leading to protests and deaths as well as hundreds of injuries around the world including the countries of Egypt, Yemen and Libya, which saw the death of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans on the 11th anniversary of 9/11.

Local community leaders discuss the anti-Muslim film during a press conference.Those present at the press conference included Imam Mohammad Elahi from the Islamic House of Wisdom, Dawud Walid, the Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Michigan Chapter (CAIR-MI) and Imam Sayed Hassan Al-Qazwini from the Islamic Center of America who all joined together to represent the Imam's Council of the Michigan Muslim Community Council.

"The Imam's Council condemns in the strongest terms the killing of the U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Libya and other embassy staffers. Islam strictly prohibits the killing or harming of diplomats and civilians under any circumstance. Such violence is against the Islamic teachings and the spirit of the Holy Quran," the press release stated. "The Imams do support our freedoms, but also denounce the abuse of such privileges, including the promotion of hatred via inflammatory literature, movie or speech by individuals or groups. Such actions by all extremists must not be allowed to damage the emerging freedoms in the Middle East and peaceful co-existence everywhere. We urge all Muslims to peacefully oppose any provocative or aggressive acts against their faith."

The stance the local leaders have taken on the issue, condemning both the anti-Islamic film as well as the violent reactions that have ensued afterwards, seems to be the stance that the majority of American Muslims have been taking as a whole. Some national organizations have even gone further to condemn the violence occurring overseas. CAIR's national office for example released an Arabic language video directed at the Middle East this week urging protestors not to blame Americans and the U.S. government for the film. CAIR's national Executive Director Nihad Awad urged Muslims in the video to follow the path of prophet Muhammad by not retaliating with violence.

But while many have been fearing the growing violence overseas, both Muslim and civil rights groups in the U.S. have also expressed their worries that the violent reactions could carry over into the U.S., but not by Muslims. At the press conference in Dearborn Heights, Walid told reporters that he hopes anti-Muslim extremists in the U.S. don't use this situation as a means to rally Americans up against Islam.

"We are concerned about a backlash in our country or extremists trying to take advantage of the situation," Walid stated. "The escalating tensions going on overseas involve a very minuscule percentage of the 1.6 billion Muslims around the world," Walid added.

That same message was also conveyed on Tuesday in Los Angeles when the Muslims Public Affair Council and the Los Angeles Diocese of the Coptic Orthodox Church held a press conference hosted by the L.A City Human Relations Commission in front of the L.A’s City Hall to condemn the escalating violence. The press conference was conducted in both English and Arabic in order to convey the message to the Middle East. 

"We are here to condemn putting prejudice and hate in a production that only serves to insult groups,” said Dr. Maher Hathout, the MPAC Senior Adviser . “We declare in no ambiguous terms that we are totally against mass labeling of a group of people because of the actions of some who claim to belong to that group. These people are neither Muslims nor Copts. Those are people who are psychologically diseased, with hearts full of hate and minds full of disease. Our job together is to leave no room for these voices to manipulate and take over the arena. The voice that should be heard is our collective voices here.”

During the press conference in Dearborn Heights, Imam Elahi welcomed open dialogue to those who may have a misconception about the religion of Islam and stated this would be one way of dealing with the rise of Islamophobia. 

"Anyone who may have any problem with Islamic history or teachings is welcomed to sit down and have a dialogue and dispute on this. Islam is a religion of reason and love and its light can't be turned off through these hateful expressions," Imam Elahi stated.

While the reaction to the video in the U.S. has not been as chaotic as the turn of events in the Middle East, locals have been responding in their own ways as well. Last Thursday in Royal Oak, dozens gathered for a silent vigil in honor of Ambassador Stevens and three others who were killed in Libya. The Muslim community in Dearborn has also been looking for noteworthy but appropriate ways to respond to the situation. According to Imam Al-Qazwini, due to a demand from the community, there will be a rally held at the Islamic Center of America on September 21st.

“We are calling for the community to join us as we invite both interfaith leaders as well as Sunni leaders in condemning this anti-Islamic movie and condemning the acts of violence that has targeted the lives of diplomats in the Middle East,” Imam Al-Qazwini stated.

Imam Al-Qazwini says the rapid spread of Islamophobia in the United States needs to be addressed by the Muslim community. He even alludes to politics in having a great role in pushing the anti-islamic agenda.

“Islamophobia has been spreading and this movie is a great example of one case. I do not rule out the role of some political parties who have been using Islamophobia as a way to manipulate the public and attract voters during election season. This movie didn't just come out of nowhere. I feel like it was a calculated move. The fact that Terry Jones continuously comes to the largest population of Muslims in the country as well as the recent acts of New York police provoking Muslims and multiple other examples that have occurred in recent months, all these are indicators that there is a big movement taking place and there are certain forces behind it,” Imam Al-Qazwini stated. 

Another gathering, spearheaded by leaders from the local community is also expected to take place in the upcoming week in the auditorium of the Civic Center in Dearborn. Several community leaders have been meeting this week at both the Lebanese Heritage Club as well as The Arab American News’ office to prepare for what is expected to be the biggest response from the Arab American community to date in regards to the issue. Attorney Tarek Beydoun, one of the organizers of the upcoming event, says this will be a collaborative community effort with a goal to make a statement against hate speech and promote all of the religions prophets in a positive light.

"The goal of the rally is to condemn hatred and express love for the prophet and all other prophets. We need to educate people on how hate speech impacts not only our nation but people around the world as well," Beydoun said. 

Imam Abdul-Latif Berry, Director of the Islamic Institute of Knowledge in Dearborn, said that he held a meeting with several local imams and community leaders, who ultimately pledged to support the community’s efforts and rally at the Civic Center. 

Organizers of the event are looking to fill the auditorium with locals and are  encouraging members of other faiths to attend as well. At press time, speakers are also expected to take the podium. The event at Dearborn’s civic center will take place Friday, September 28 at 5:30 p.m. located at 15801 Michigan Ave.