Interfaith “United We Stand” Event in Sacramento
By Ras H. Siddiqui
Sacramento, CA: The theme for the evening was “United We Stand” and the packed SALAM Community Center exhibited an exemplary warmth and understanding between faiths on December 14, 2015, one which took the Sacramento community to the next level of peace and togetherness. The event was arranged by the Interfaith Council of Greater Sacramento and it addressed the need of our times in the aftermath of horrific events in Paris and San Bernardino where not only have innocent people been ruthlessly murdered but the religion of Islam has been hung in the process.
It is no secret that Muslims in America today feel bewildered, shocked and intimidated after the reported actions of a few individuals who have hijacked their narrative. It is for this reason that an evening like this has become important, a show of solidarity where clergy from different religions and denominations along with officials from local law enforcement (Judicial, Police and FBI) and members of the wider community offer their support to members of the Islamic community.
The event emcee was Jon Fish, current President of the Interfaith Council. And the lineup of formidable speakers included Father Michael Kiernan (Chaplain, Beale Air Force Base), Ms Ellen Eggers (Office of State Public Defender), Gary Miller (Clerk, Sacramento Friends (Quakers), Troy Sowers (Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge, FBI), Rabbi Mona Alfi (Congregation B’nai Israel), Rev Brian Baker (Dean, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral), Scott Jones (Sheriff, Sacramento County), Imam Kashif Ahmed (SALAM Religious Director), Rev Alan Jones (St Mark’s United Methodist Church), George Nicholson (Justice, Third District Court of Appeal), Dr Anne Kjemtrup (Chairperson SALAM), Imam Azeez (President, Tarbiya Institute) and Rev Jeff Cota (Church of Scientology).
The three Abrahamic faiths - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - have had a close cooperative relationship in the Sacramento region for quite some time. The community is no stranger to religious targeting since the 1999 attacks on local synagogues left Sacramento stunned. But we remained united. After 9/11 an annual “A Day of Unity” emerged. And these gatherings have also included people of other faiths like Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, and includes those without faith who were present at this gathering as well.
All the speakers spoke convincingly and made their points. Since an encapsulation of the entire evening is just not possible in this report, a few highlights are being shared which reflect on the theme of “United We Stand”. Jon Fish (Mormon Church) said that the whole goal for tonight is to go home and convince everybody you know that we have got to love each other more (for which he received quite a bit of applause). He added that we join with the Muslim community and people of all faiths in prayers for victims of the recent attacks in San Bernardino (and Paris), and that we condemn the use of His (God’s) most holy name for this violence. He added that many are here tonight because we are trying to do some good in our society. We have to do all kinds of good. Under our skin, we are all brothers and sisters, Children of God.
Ms Ellen Eggers started with “Peace be with you” and recognized her friendship with SALAM’s Dr Metwalli Amer as one of the main reasons for her being present in the event. She said that she was a Retired State Public Defender who had a chance to represent people on death row for over 25 years which led her to become an advocate against the death penalty. It is not only ISIS that commits extreme acts of violence, our country is capable of that too, she said. She said that the recent violence against Planned Parenthood, for instance, had nothing to do with Islam.
Troy Sowers from the FBI thanked the organizers for the invitation to be part of this event. He said that the FBI has resources around the world but what is more important is that they feel that they are members of the local community. “We are one of you,” he said. He added that safety and security are recognized as a community affair. He said that the mission of the FBI is to protect the United States of America and every individual living in it from any threats.
Rabbi Mona Alfi next read from the scriptures on how good it is when we dwell together as brothers and sisters standing united. She said that people of all faiths, including the Muslim community, stood by the Jewish community when their synagogues were attacked 16 years ago. She added that the Jewish and the Muslim faiths share many teachings which is not surprising since we worship the same God and we are cousins, both children of our father Abraham. And we both came here (to America) because we believe in the ideals that this nation stands for.
Imam Kashif Ahmed of SALAM in his speech thanked all the speakers who had been supportive of the Muslim community. He said that our religion does not teach, support or help those people who have no respect for humanity or innocent life. He shared a story about his visit to a gas station where someone apologized to him for some of the anti-Muslim rhetoric generated after the Paris attacks because of the actions of a few misguided individuals. We Muslims support those individuals who are law-abiding citizens, not those who harm others in the name of religion. We support those who care for and love one another, he said. He added that Muslims support those who are willing to give their lives to save another life.
Dr Anne Kjemtrup said that on behalf of SALAM we are honored, touched and overwhelmed by your presence. She said that the main motivation for this event is that we are discussing how we are going to counter these messages of hate. She added that at SALAM they have received only letters of love and concern, particularly from the area clergy. She added that as Muslims we are devastated whenever these horrific acts occur.
The announcement by Dr Metwalli Amer that Imam Azeez who was the former Imam at SALAM was here to address us gave another boost to the “United We Stand” theme of the day. Imam Azeez shared his daughter Zainab’s response to a bigoted comment at school. He also proceeded to condemn those he called thugs (ISIS) and said that he would only call them by their name of Daesh. He said that they are trying to drive a wedge between Muslims and the rest of America and that they will not succeed. The evening ended with a closing prayer led by Rev Jeff Cota.