Muslim Woman Attends Friday Prayers in Lower Manhattan
Reem El Shafaki, an Egyptian now living in New Jersey, stands in front of the proposed site of the Park51 mosque and cultural center in lower Manhattan. (photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The news has been thick with polarized debates about proposed Qur’an burnings in Florida and the Park51 project. Tamara Lee, a listener from Hopewell, New Jersey, writes us looking for some advice:

“I’m increasingly frustrated by the inability of so many people, particularly Americans, to distinguish between the religion of Islam and the culture of some Islamic countries. I’ve long respected the religion even though some aspects of the culture are less appealing to me. Of late, I am particularly concerned that Muslims seem to be afraid of non-Muslims. I would like to become involved with a group that strives to combat this fear. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.”

If you have any recommendations to pass along to Tamara, post a comment here and we’ll be sure to relay them to her.


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There are quite a few such groups--those that try to eliminate fear and prejudice, and try to bring people together in shared understanding and respect. I would check with the Council for a Parliament of World Religions, any local interfaith group, or the Jewish Anti-Defamation League. I am sure that they can help provide relevant information. I wish you good fortune in your search. Wish I could have been more informative.

When we feel fear, we have a choice: We can recoil from it and withdraw from anything in our lives that makes this feeling arise in us, or we can say yes, fear, you exist but I want to know what it is about you that scares me. The act of questioning it can transform it.

One way to address fear is to engage with an interfaith group. I live in Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C. There are several excellent local (county-level) interfaith groups and also a group in the greater D.C. area called the Muslim Women's Coalition that works with interfaith groups. The latter is part of a larger organization whose offices are in New Jersey: http://www.mwcoalition.org The link for the New Jersey office is http://www.mwcoalition.org/id9... .

A group like the MWO, a number of whose local members I have met, does so much good in overcoming fear through education and awareness and also good works, which in turn create positive relationships with the community. People who are compassionate and respectful both reach out and accept a hand that reaches to them.

In addition to working in your community through an interfaith group, consider establishing a group that uses the arts to identify and work through these issues of fear. Paint what this fear looks like; write it out in a poem; act it out in a play; set it to music; dance it out of your life. Perhaps find someone to sponsor an event for the community to show the paintings, read the poems, perform the play and music and dance, and have someone else mediate afterward a kind of town hall discussion about what it feels like to see and hear and be with another person's fear.

Be fearless in the face of the noise-makers. They don't represent America, and they don't deserve the energy and power you give them by fearing them.

Maureen, your comments are wonderful....thank you, Laurie

Maureen, those are wonderful ideas and there's an MWO chapter fairly close to me. I look forward to getting involved. Thank you! Tamara

As an African American in this country (particularly in the south) fear is something you live with and experience on an ongoing basis. You learn to watch your back, watch what you say, check places out before going in, check groups out before joining them, check neighborhoods out before visiting them, and hope you won't be some officers accident or mistake.

Prejudice and hatred of various people for various reasons is rooted in the history of this country. If it wasn't you, it would be someone else. And remember - you are not alone. They still hate African Americans, Hespanics, immigrants, some Asians, and many Native Americans. Discrimination against Jews and Catholics remains and the Gay and Lesbian community continues to live and die in a circle of discrimination, hatred and fear.

Yet, there are a lot of groups who are trying to change things. A lot of good eople who open their minds and their hearts as they attempt to be "part of the solution". The YWCA in many states is concentrating on "acceptance programs". Programs that bring people of all cultures, races, and religions together.

Remember that people who hate you or discriminate against you because of your religion, your sexual preference, or the color of your skin are generally less educated and far less intelligent than you are. They buy-in on conversations without knowing the facts. They spill lies and untruths to motivate their masses. Through their hatred they prey on those they fear thinking it will quiet their ragging storms. They exist in this country and throughout the world and they always will.

Living in fear is a way of life for many. You are definitely not alone.

Thank you Shirley for your understanding comments. How short-sighted of me not to connect the fear of so many others with the fear felt by many of today's Muslims. Of course it's all the same. The problem is even bigger than I thought. All the more reason to get involved and try to change my little piece of the world. Thank you!

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