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Interfaith Gathering in Bay Area Repudiates Anti-Muslim Rhetoric
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

The Islamic Society of East Bay (ISEB) held an interfaith gathering on Sunday, February 28, 2016. The interfaith event drew a large crowd from near and far.

The event was co-sponsored by the American Muslim Voice as well as the neighboring St. Paul Fremont United Methodist Church.

As reported by the Mercury News, around 250 people attended the event. Its theme - "Hands Around the Mosque" – was aimed at seeking support of all ethnic and faith groups in the current uneasy environment fomented by the Republican hopefuls, particularly Donald Trump. Not surprisingly, the Mercury News published a report about the event with the following headline: In Bay Area, Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric repudiated.

Sharon Noguchi of the Mercury News wrote: " His name was never spoken in two hours of speeches, but Donald Trump's anti-Islamic rhetoric and the Islamophobia it has churned up were roundly repudiated Sunday, as Bay Area civic and religious leaders told Muslim residents and neighbors: You are one of us and you are not alone."

In brief but emphatic and sometimes passionate speeches, about two dozen pastors and rabbis, mayors and activists spoke at Hands Around the Mosque, an interfaith event intended to build understanding, Noguchi added.
Here are a few excerpts from the speeches reported by Sharon Noguchi:

"We can smell fascism when it's arising, and it's beginning to arise in the country," said Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of the Berkeley-based Jewish Tikkun magazine. "It scares us."

Christians are uniquely challenged to actively build bridges of understanding among religions, said the Rev. Vincent Raj, of the Episcopal Diocese of El Camino Real on the Monterey Peninsula.
The Hebrew Bible commands "remember the stranger with kindness,” said Rabbi Neil Penn, of Beyt Tikkun in Berkeley.

"Americans after 9/11 have been quick to condemn, too quick to pass judgment," said Scott Haggarty, president of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors.

Abbot Jianshu Shifu of the Zen Center of Sunnyvale, reminded people that there were no good and bad people, just people who do go and bad deeds.

Rabbi Michael Lerner , co-founder of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, did not blame Trump supporters, but an economic system that is squeezing, disenfranchising and alienating most people. "We need to address the hunger in people for an alternative," he said, and transform the social order.

The program began with the recitation of the Holy Qur’an by Luqman Zacria from the ISEB Sunday School. Tahzeeb Siddiqui presented the translation of the Qur’anic verses. Sister Nawal Saleh, teacher of the Sunday School, prepared the students for qirat.

After the recitation of the Holy Qur’an, Abdus Sattar Ghazali, a member of the ISEB Board of Directors and Senior Adviser of the American Muslim Voice, formally welcomed the guests on behalf of the ISEB and AMV.

Maryam Levenberg, LuthfaZecria, Basheer Albasheer, Zena Siddiqui and Bilal Hashmi, students of the Sunday School, presented nasheed, a traditional Islamic song. Taha Khan, another student of the Sunday School, related the history of the nasheed: Residents of Madinah sang to welcome Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) upon his arrival to Madinah after being forced to leave Mecca. The song is over 1400 years old and is considered the oldest in the Islamic culture and tradition. Sister Eman Khaddour prepared the students for the nasheed presentation.

Shahram Marleen, Social Secretary of the Muslim Community Association, was MC of the program which was paused for the Asr prayer. Many of the attendees went to the prayers hall to watch how Muslims pray. They thanked the ISEB for providing an opportunity to watch a Muslim prayer live.

The speakers at the Interfaith gathering were given only three minute to speak because there were two dozen speakers which included:

Bob Wieckowski, California state senator; Patrick Burt, Mayor of Palo Alto; Bill Harrison, Mayor of Fremont; Lily Mei, Vice Mayor of Fremont; Shirley Lin Kinoshita, Silicon Valley United Nations Association ‐ USA president; Rev Ben Daniel, senior pastor, Montclair Presbyterian Church in Oakland; Rabbi Sheldon Lewis, Past President of the Board of Rabbis of North California; Teresa Castellanos, community activist; Rev Dr Andrew Kelle, chair of the Board Silicon Valley Interreligious Council (SIVIC); Rev. Dr Eileen, Altman, Associate Pasto, First Congregational Church of Palo Alto; Rev John Oda, pastor, Lake Park United Methodist Church, Oakland; Juliette Suarez, Fellowship of Reconciliation; Dr Sharat G. Lin, San Jose Peace & Justice Center & South Alameda County Peace & Justice Coalition; Rev. Melanie Weiner, associate minister at Foothills Congregational Church in Los Altos; Girish Shah, past-president and cofounder of Jan Center of Northern California in Milpitas; Rabbi Chaim Koritzinsky, Congregation Etz Chayim, Palo Alto; Komal Ahmad, founder and CEO of Copia (which creates efficient food waste management and feeds individuals in need); and Sun Hee Kim, pastor of Sait Paul Fremont United Methodist Church.

Samina Sundas, Founding Executive Director of the American Muslim Voice Foundation, said her organization's initiative, the Miracle Movement of Peace and Friendship, is aimed at fostering a tighter sense of community among fellow Americans. "If all of us sit down with each other and talk to each other, all the ignorance and fear will just fly out the window," Sundas told the Mercury News, adding: "We could send a loud and clear message to the world: In California, this is how we do things. We support each other with kindness, with love, and with compassion."

Syed Inamdar, former President of the ISEB, also graced the event. His services for the ISEB and the Muslim community were recognized. Syed Inamdar, who was on a wheel chair, was accompanied by his daughter Syeda Reshma Inamdar, who is also a very active member of the Bay Area Muslim community.

In following the theme of the event "Hands Around The Mosque," the guests clasped hands as they formed a circle in the courtyard of the mosque.

The Hands Around the Mosque event included a candle light vigil around the Peace Pillar outside the Mosque and the Methodist Church. The vigil was aimed at expressing solidarity with the seven-million strong Muslim American community.

At the end of the program, Areeba Yasin offered vote of thanks.

Syed Rifat Mahmood, President of the ISEB interim board, thanked all ISEB volunteers who helped to make the program successful. The volunteers included: Shama Khan, Anamika Nath, Raffat Shareef, Akila Atarwala, Raheel Khan, Asad Khan and Human Khan.

Special thanks to Farooq Hussaini for setting up the sound system. And special thanks also to Chandni Restaurant for providing dinner for 250 guests at a very short notice.

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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