A group of local Christians and Muslims, many of whom served on a panel together five years ago to build interfaith bridges, have joined together to present a unified voice for justice on high-profile, recent deaths of African Americans.
That includes George Floyd, who died after being handcuffed and held face-down on pavement under a police officer’s knee for more than eight minutes in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25.
The Christian-Muslim group penned a joint letter earlier this week via email and Zoom. The note carries the heading “A Call for Social Justice and Peace.”
The missive opens with a passionate and pointed overview: “The Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, profess that God’s creation are all created equally and possess equal rights. We believe in the crucial importance of protesting injustices and systemic racism.
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“We can’t stand by idly in the face of brutality and injustices that have long been rooted and overlooked with no accountability. We also call for and believe in equity and human rights for all.”
The Rev. Clem Davis of St. Bartholomew Catholic Church was a member of the original 16-member panel of Christians (mostly Catholics) and Muslims that formed in 2015. That was a few months after Muslim-oriented graffiti was found spray-painted on three Christian churches, including St. Bartholomew’s.
Throughout much of that year, panelists gathered for discussions, meals, became guests at the other faith’s worship and prayer services, enjoyed picnics and more. The idea was to use unity and mutual respect to fight a situation that could have been cause for strife and division.
“Humanly speaking, we all got to know one another and truly enjoyed one another’s company,” Davis said. “We all may have started with a little bit of the jitters. But over the course of eight sessions, we all became friends.”
Shortly after that time, local Christians and Muslims began meeting monthly for informal breakfasts at Blackerby’s Hangar 5 restaurant — at least until the novel coronavirus changed public gatherings and indoor restaurant dining.
Davis was among the first of those original panel members to make clear that differences in some beliefs between Christians and Muslims hardly means they cannot find considerable common ground.
“I don’t have to demand the exact same religious belief of someone I choose to befriend,” Davis said in 2016 at a public gathering about the panel.
Zulkifly Yusuf was an original member of the interfaith panel, and is a former president of the Islamic Society of Columbus Indiana, sees letters calling for justice on behalf of African Americans as one small step in what he termed “a very long process.” He explained himself.
“It will be a long process (toward justice) because what has happened with racism has been a long-term process,” Yusuf said. “I have hope that someday we will get there, that there will no longer be racism that is part of a system (of justice). But in order to get there, we have to start from somewhere.
“And this is what we do for now.”
Jan Banister, a St. Bartholomew’s member who was an original panel member, told a crowd at one public meeting in 2016 that she “did not expect…to fall in love with these people as (spiritual) brothers and sisters.” That comment and a few others demonstrated the emotional connection between the groups.
Banister said that the letter is a strong way “to demonstrate that there is no division among many people of faith.” She added that in the current racial climate, “silence is deafening.”
She would like to see the recent killings, unrest and riots trigger meaningful sharing about the evils of racism.
“Ideally, I hope that here and everywhere that this is happening, there can can honest and open and transparent discussions, especially because the very word racism is so loaded right now,” Banister said.
[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”A call for social justice and peace” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
From: Rev. Clem Davis, David Harpenau, Sharif Aljoaba, Hanna Omar, Zulkifly Yusuf, Donna Keogh, Annette Barnes, David Carlson, Jan Banister, Rev. Chris Wadelton, Rev. d Felipe Martinez, Nassim Khaled, Steve Heimann, Clarence White, Maria Souza, Nebil Baqhum, Suzan Kasaby, Mahvish Ghufran
The Abrahamic faiths; Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, profess that God’s creation are all created equally and possess equal rights. We believe in the crucial importance of protesting injustices and systemic racism. We can’t stand by idly in the face of brutality and injustices that have long been rooted and overlooked with no accountability. We also call for and believe in equity and human rights for all. We, as a nation, must come to terms that we have to stand together against the abhorrent injustices and brutality that our brothers and sisters in the African American communities have long suffered. We call for spreading the belief that all persons, regardless of color, religion, nationality, or creed, have inalienable human rights to life, safety, and liberty.
Under the constant weight of systematic racism in this country, normal endeavors like jogging, shopping or simply being at home become frightening, dangerous activities for African Americans. The recent killing of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, and George Floyd in Minneapolis, and countless other unarmed African Americans represent the brutal, needlessly long journey to achieve equity across the spectrum of race, gender, religion and ethnicity. We offer our sincere condolences to their families, and the families of those African Americans whose deaths have not reached the headlines.
As we reflect on Breonna, Ahmaud and George’s deaths, we recognize that this affects not only African Americans. These killings are a cause for every American to mourn. To honor their lives, we all need to speak out and act. We all need to use legal channels to achieve justice for every person. We have to act wisely and peacefully to move forward. This is not a war against police. We recognize that the vast majority of police officers in our community work tirelessly to serve us. However, when a police officer acts out of prejudice, every community needs a robust justice system to hold that officer accountable. This has to be our priority and we are reaching out to our local community leaders to prioritize finding a remedy.
As faith leaders of Columbus, Indiana, based on our common values in faith and justice, we believe it is our moral obligation to call for the good majority people to action. We wish to conclude this letter with a quote from the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.: "History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”