Following the inaugural Shoulder to Shoulder Seminarian Interfaith Seminar at the ISNA Annual Convention in August, 2014, participants of the Seminar published opinion pieces and blogs in local and national outlets to disseminate more widely what they learned through this experience. Jonathan Owens, a Seminary student at Calvin Theological Seminary, published his piece in the Detroit Free Press on September 11, 2014:
Muslims and Christians in America often have the same goals (guest column)
Every year, as the anniversary of Sept. 11 rolls around, I notice an uptick in Islamophobic rhetoric in my community and in the media. Too often, we hear from those who believe the only way that we will ever stop militant extremists who identify with Islam is by annihilating the religion itself.
Islamophobia is bigoted and alienates the very people who are our strongest allies in our work to stop religiously motivated hatred and violence — the American Muslim community.
My own stereotypes about the Muslim community were tested over Labor Day weekend, when I joined with fellow rabbinical and seminary students for interfaith dialogue at the 51st annual Islamic Society of North America Convention in Detroit.
The Muslim Americans were mostly discussing issues that we talk about in our churches and synods and dioceses — a simple change in some of the proper nouns, and there were times I almost thought I was sitting in a Christian conference discussing the issues of the day.
I met American Muslims, some born here and others immigrants, who love this country. They came here to seek freedom of religion, to raise their families in peace, to find economic opportunity. I heard conversations about all of our religions working together to maintain our religious identities in an increasingly secular nation. Sessions focused on helping kids get the best education possible, and worrying over young people not coming to the mosques (sound familiar?). I met many American Muslims who are working to find nonviolent solutions for peace worldwide. I saw them take a stand on important issues and listened to them participate in our political process. There are differences between Muslims and Christians in America, theologically and culturally, but what I found is that we often have the same goals.
Those who perpetuate Islamophobia don’t want us to see any of this; they want us to believe that the Muslim community is violent and irreconcilably different from the Christian community. They would use the memory of the tragedy of 9/11 to reignite our anger and our fear. But the American Muslims I met have the desire and a unique voice for speaking out against the political misuse of Islam by violent extremists. As global citizens, we should encourage that voice and empower it, working together with all of our neighbors for the good of our world.
There is no better way to honor the sacrifice of those who lost their lives on 9/11.
Jonathan Owens is a master’s of divinity student at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids.