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Muslims strive for inter-faith harmony in a post-Trump America

KARACHI: Manhattan traffic has caused enough delays, but the fear of missing my flight back to Karachi abates a little when I have been thoroughly patted down by the Transportation Security Adminis­tration and given the go-ahead. A few minutes later a mere jet bridge separates me from a predictably uncomfortable seat for the journey home. Even so, as I rush in with the last few passengers, I am unprepared for the sight that greets me.

Around a dozen federal agents, with distinctively glittering badges, are lined along both sides of the jet bridge corridor and are randomly stopping passengers. I am profiled twice within the span of a few minutes.

Is this regular practice or have security measures in the ‘divided’ States of America been heightened? Either way, it does amplify the general discomfort felt by many in the country after a shock election result saw Donald Trump grasp the presidency.

After the Electoral College handed Trump the ticket despite Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote by an overwhelming majority, his trajectory so far has been commented on, scrutinised and analysed for a weary audience. What is largely ignored is the sense of insecurity and uncertainty that seems to be encompassing minorities here.

One such is the Muslim Association of Lehigh Valley (MALV) in the state of Pennsylvania, where around 1,500 families from over 30 countries of Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America reside. Pakistani Muslims make up roughly 40 per cent of this community with diverse professional backgrounds including physicians, engineers and businessmen.

The MALV is the largest Islamic centre in the state and its president Kamran Siddiqui, originally from Karachi, has been part of this community for the past 40 years.

Working at a leading international bank as senior manager and head of application security maturity, Siddiqui shares his reaction on hearing Trump being declared the winner. “Our community, like the rest of the US and the world, was surprised by Trump’s win. We are very concerned due to the bigoted and anti-Muslim rhetoric he had spread during the campaign.

“We did not expect his win as his ideas are very un-American. All being said and done, we have the freedom to practise our religion and [enjoy] freedom of speech in this country. There is a system to voice concerns and stand up for justice; for that we are proud to be American.”

Though tensions are high and what may come to pass is anybody’s guess, there are instances at the grassroots that reveal a strong and thriving relationship between different religious communities.

According to Siddiqui, the Christian and Jewish communities, especially their leadership, have made consistent efforts to regularly visit the mosque. The same is the case with the elected officials of Lehigh Valley. And after the election results, efforts are under way to further cement this relationship.

The Interfaith in Action Committee (IAC) which comprises Jews, Christians, Muslims and Hindus, held a press conference in Hanover Township, Lehigh County, where 85 religious and other Lehigh Valley leaders released a joint statement authored by Rev Larry Pickens, Ecumenical Director for the Lehigh Conference of Churches. This was in response to reports of racist attacks in the Saucon Valley and Southern Lehigh school districts that included Nazi salutes and swastika graffiti, and in particular referred to incidents against Muslims.

“As faith leaders,” reads the statement, “we commit to overcoming hatred and discrimination in our communities, schools and places of worship. We are deeply troubled by actions and language that vilify persons based upon their race, nationality, faith, gender or sexual orientation; we reject the targeting of particular groups in our society, and the promotion of hatred and fear.”

The statement is being circulated to garner support and its signatories are taking a stance against racial and religious bigotry in particular.

It is too early to tell what the next four years will bring for the community and though the leadership is working hard to assimilate and coexist, it is personal letters dropped off or posted to the centre that reaffirm faith in humankind, believes Siddiqui.

One letter, now displayed at the MALV noticeboard, is signed by Jack and reads: “I just wanted to reach out to you and say that you are loved, welcomed and accepted here in the Lehigh Valley. … No matter what is to come in the next few years, just know I and many others have your backs and will stand with you should it become necessary.”

What remains to be seen, however, is whether these voices will translate into action should the time come when it is required. And will other minorities be as lucky, considering that the increasing intolerance in the country aims to attack and consume all and any diversity.

courtesy : dawn news

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