Last month, an annual fundraiser was held in Yorba Linda, Calif., to raise money for combating homelessness and domestic abuse in the local community. Sounds great, right? It's something that Christians, Jews and other faith groups do frequently, except this event happened to have been organized by Muslims.
Families who had given up a relaxing Sunday evening at home to attend their community's chicken dinner fundraiser were forced to walk past an angry mob that had gathered hours earlier in protest of their banquet. Shouts of "We don't want you here! Go back home! Go back home! Go back home!" and awful insults to the Prophet Muhammad were yelled as Muslim parents and their children entered the community center. Local news covered the protest, and a video was made of the ugly scene. Please take a few moments and view it here.
In the last year there have been quite a few anti-Muslim demonstrations around the country -- in front of mosques, at city council meetings, in marches around small towns, and other places -- but watching adults screaming, "Terrorists!" at children made me cry. Local Orange County residents shouted at the Muslim families, "You beat your women and you rape your children!" And, "Take your sharia and go home, you terrorist lovers. Your hands are bloody! Your money is bloody! Get out!"
This protest included elected officials standing in front of American flags spewing intolerant rhetoric aimed at their Muslim constituents. Deborah Pauly, local Councilwoman & Vice Chair of the Orange County GOP said, "I know quite a few Marines who would be very happy to help these terrorists to an early meeting in paradise." To the surprise of many, two United States Congressmen stood and spoke in support of the protests at this rally as well.
Things may get worse, Rep. Peter King (R-NY), Chair of the Homeland Security Committee of the House of Representatives, is holding McCarthy-like Congressional hearings beginning this Thursday on the "Radicalization of American Muslims." Quite a bit of the proposed witness list has looked like a who's who of Islamophobes, and we Muslim Americans are holding our collective breath waiting for the fallout from these hearings. We wonder: will we see more hate mobs outside our mosques or events due to hysteria being whipped up by these hearings? It's certainly possible, and Muslims around the country are strategizing on how to respond to protect our faith community from more bigoted protests, or even dangerous attacks on our places of worship and individuals.
Many have commented on the poise and dignity displayed by the Muslims at the Yorba Linda event. They marvel at how those children and teenagers walked through that line of screaming maniacs without responding in kind. I think I know why they were able to do it so gracefully.
Muslims have the Quran and the example of the life and words of the Blessed Prophet Muhammad. Like all of God's Prophets, he suffered greatly while delivering God's Word to the people in the early days of being a Messenger of God. The Quraish of Makkah, Muhammad's own friends and relatives, turned on him after he began to receive divine revelations of monotheism. Muhammad had been a well-respected member of one of the society's most prestigious tribal families, but when he declared that God forbade idol worship his place in society disappeared. Many people in the city turned on him with spite and malice. People threw rotting offal onto his back while he was prostrated in prayer; they threatened his life and those lives of his followers. He eventually had to flee from his oppressors in the night to save his life.
His early companions suffered greatly as well. One well-known example is of Bilal, a young Abyssinian (from modern day Ethiopia), who was tortured and dragged through the streets and then laid out on the hot sands while heavy rocks were piled on his chest in the effort to get him to renounce his belief in One God. It didn't work. Bilal was a constant companion to Muhammad thereafter, and he was Islam's first muezzin, the one who calls the faithful to prayer. The early Muslims remained strong, and did not compromise their beliefs, nor did they respond to the hate from the lowest depths of their character. Instead, they held strong to the words of God and drew their resolve from His message, and His Messenger. The accounts of persecution are many; we relate them to our children as they learn about Islam.
We teach our children that if those early Companions of the Blessed Prophet Muhammad could withstand physical torture, exile from their homes, and severe condemnation from family and neighbors, we can withstand a few idiots with signs and a bullhorn. We talk about how the early Muslims were a small minority among a majority of people who didn't understand them, and who often hated them. We celebrate the stories of those faithful who stood firm in their belief in One God.
When teaching our faith we also use contemporary examples of Muslims who struggle for justice through peaceful and dignified ways. The Egyptian Revolution is a prime example of Muslims standing strong for justice through nonviolent means. Our children watched the young people of Egypt peacefully win their freedom from oppression with love for each other -- Muslim and Christian both. We talk about how it's our obligation to God to continue this noble legacy of peaceful living and worship despite adversity.
My husband and I don't shield our children from harsh realities like this hate rally-it would be pointless to do it. They have experienced bigotry in small, insidious ways on many occasions. They've been called a terrorist out of earshot of teachers, they've felt the disdain from various people in public places, they've been shunned when it's time to pick teams in gym, or give out party invitations; they've heard people tell us, "go back home," when we are home.
However, it's our duty to God as Muslim parents to teach our kids to recall the child who befriended them when they were new in school, or the daily smile from the driver as he opens the yellow school bus doors, or our neighbor who told them they were the best behaved children she had ever met. It's all a matter of how you look at life, and what you choose to focus on. My kids are doing their best to stay strong in their faith, ignore the insults, and to cherish the love they get from friends and family-just as those families in Yorba Linda did.
My family wants to tell the Orange County Muslim families that we, and America's Muslim community are proud of them for showing the world what true Muslim character is all about.