Troubled by verbal and occasional physical assaults on Muslims in the wake of recent terror attacks, an interfaith group will rally on Tuesday, Dec. 22, at 5:30 p.m. at Scotch Plains Town Hall.
“There will be prayers and words of hope from representatives of different faith communities and service organizations,” said Rabbi Joel Abraham of Temple Sholom in Scotch Plains, who is helping to organize “We Stand Together — A Gathering for Religious Tolerance.” Abraham is assisting the cantor at his synagogue, Darcie Naomi Sharlein, Rev. E. F. Michael Morgan of All Saints' Episcopal Church in Scotch Plains, and Rev. Carletta Aston, who is president of the, Scotch Plains/Fanwood Ministerium and pastor of First United Methodist Church of Scotch Plains.
“We want to raise our voices in support of mutual tolerance and respect, and to firmly state to our Muslim brothers and sisters that we will not be silent in the face of political rhetoric that seeks to incite hatred and cause division. We believe strongly that the country that we all love was founded on the concept of religious liberty for all,” said the rabbi.
“Is there a climate of anti-Muslim actions and Muslim fear in our community? Absolutely,” said Abraham, past president of the Scotch Plains/Fanwood Ministerium, which includes Christian and Jewish clergy, leaders of nonprofit organization, mayors, and school superintendents.
“If something happens against my group, I want the entire community to come to me and ask, ‘What should we do?’” he told NJ Jewish News in a Dec. 16 phone interview. “I want them to automatically react and say, ‘This is wrong.’ I want to be part of a proactive community that speaks out before people ask us to speak in defense of them.”
“We do not have a mosque in our area,” said Abraham. “ I am sure there are Muslims living in our community, but we don't know because they are keeping their heads down. As a Jew I am incredibly empathetic to people who feel they cannot reveal who they are because of fear of how they will be treated.”
According to Joshua Cohen, director of the state’ s Anti-Defamation League’s office, New Jersey, like many other parts of America, “has seen a recent uptick in anti-Muslim attacks and sentiments in the aftermath of the the mass terrorist attack in Paris and the shootings in San Bernardino, Calif.”
Cohen said harassing letters and voicemails have been left at the Al Tawheeda Islamic Center in Jersey City. They included “numerous disparaging comments about Muslims and references to comments made by presidential candidate Donald Trump about ‘thousands and thousands’ of people in Jersey City celebrating the 9/11 attacks, a claim that has been widely discredited,” Cohen said.
“We are alarmed by that particular incident as well as the increase of incidents directed at Muslim individuals and Islamic centers across the country,” he said. “New Jerseyans of all backgrounds and beliefs must stand together against such bigotry. An attack on an Islamic center is an attack on all religious centers.”
M. Ali Chaudry, the Pakistani-born president of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge and the former mayor of his town, said his community “definitely has a lot of concern.”
“A number of parents were so concerned about the safety of their children at our Sunday school that we had to call the police when they were being picked up and dropped off, and we now keep the entrance locked,” Chaudry told NJJN. But, he said, “we should not be afraid. We should stand up and speak truth to power and make sure law enforcement is following up.”
Republican presidential frontrunner Trump earned scorn from civil rights groups for suggesting that all Muslims be barred from entering the United States.
“When a national political candidate says something hateful and it is not immediately repudiated by everyone else, people feel that hatred and assume it is coming from everyone else because we are not speaking up against it,” said Abraham. “My Judaism tells me when someone speaks out like this and creates division based on religion, it is wrong.”
Chaudry agreed. “The presidential campaign is exacerbating this, absolutely. There is no doubt about that. The daily barrage of comments by people like Donald Trump and Ben Carson and others amplify the negative, unfortunately,” he told NJJN.
For further information on “We Stand Together — A Gathering for Religious Tolerance” contact Abraham at firstname.lastname@example.org or 908-889–4900 or the Rev. Carletta Aston of the First United Methodist Church at email@example.com.