In an area that already has planted firm support for the Islamic Society of Columbus Indiana followers, some people see a new campaign to protect Muslims from prejudice as another step in the right direction.
Hanna Omar, spokeswoman for the local, 150-member Muslim community, likes Franklin College professor David Carlson’s effort to distribute yard signs reading, “We Stand With American Muslims.”
Carlson, a former local First Baptist Church member who has participated in and led a range of interfaith gatherings in Columbus the past four years, launched the effort recently as a visible show of support for Muslims.
He also aims to build more bridges between Muslims and other residents, including Christians.
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“When something tragic (involving radical Muslim terrorists) happens nationally or internationally, we Muslims find ourselves sometimes having to speak amid an anti-Muslim backlash,” Omar said. “Unfortunately, that’s always sort of reactionary.
“What I love about this idea is that it’s proactive. And the Islamic Society is trying to do more things that are proactive. So I think this goes a long way toward that.”
Shoulder to Shoulder in Interfaith Witness, co-founded by Carlson, launched the yard sign campaign to respond to the suspicion and hate speech directed at Muslims throughout society. About 40 of the $15 signs have been sold in the Franklin, Greenwood and Indianapolis areas, said Carlson, who teaches philosophy and religion.
“It (hate toward Muslims) has sadly become a part of the recent presidential political campaign,” Carlson said. “Some candidates have sort of isolated Muslims as a potential problem and stirred up fear and said that there is some sort of threat in our midst.
“And when we don’t protect those in a minority, whether that be religious, racial, ethnic or whatever, then ultimately all of us are threatened and weakened.”
Carlson outlined situations throughout history involving Jews in Germany, various tribes in Rwanda, and elsewhere, in which people failed to speak for minorities — and hatred and killing unfolded.
“Governments often count on average people not saying much (in protest),” Carlson said. “We just want to make sure we go on record that we stand with American Muslims.”
Stephen Heimann, a former leader of the local Christian-Muslim group that met for several months in 2015 to improve relations between the groups, said he liked the signs concept. Group members began meeting after Islam-oriented spray-painted grafitti was found on three Columbus Christian Churches in August 2014.
“I believe it possibly could be an effective tool to further strengthen Christian-Muslim relations, certainly,” Heimann said. “We must remember that, first of all, our country was founded by immigrants — and as a country of religious freedom. Many of the Muslims who are here came here as immigrants.
“I know that some people like to say that we were founded as a Christian nation. But actually, we were founded on the idea of religious tolerance and freedom of religion.”
Annette Barnes, another member of the local Christian-Muslim group, said she sees the signs as a good thing. She has been familiar with much of Carlson’s interfaith and other projects for years.
“I have a real appreciation and respect for his work,” Barnes said.
She added that while yard signs might be effective to convey a message of support and acceptance, people also must be purposeful in conveying the same message in interpersonal dealing and in messages on social media and elsewhere.
Since Carlson recently discovered that some subdivision and neighborhood covenants prohibit yard signs, he now is preparing to order wristbands with the same message. He hopes those can be available in the coming weeks.
Contact David Carlson at firstname.lastname@example.org
Coming soon: Wristbands with a pro-Muslim message for apartment dwellers and for those in neighborhoods with a covenant prohibiting signage.