This week a community wept. A community so misunderstood and unknown that even in the well wishers I have seen online have referred to them as Hindus. Of course there is evidence that this attacker may have been thinking he was attacking Muslims. For many after 9-11 there was no interest in understanding anyone who they thought could possibly be linked to the terrorists. Sikhs were just seen as another form of Islam and in that ignorance the first person killed in the attempt at some kind of revenge was a Sikh. Here we are in an information overload era and we still know so little about our neighbors. But just to be clear even if the people killed were Muslims there is never a place for revenge on a group for the sake of few members of it. But when September 11th took place there was fear, anger and ignorance which too often led to hate and violence.
However one of the byproducts of 9-11 was that Americans woke up to the fact that living among us are a large and growing population of American Muslims. Practically in every community Muslims have a presence. But before the horror, now more than 10 years ago, most Americans knew little of their faith, traditions and diversity. However at the same time since then a large and vocal minority have smeared all Islam with lies and distortion of the sacred texts and used intimidation and violence and in some cases the power of government to attack Muslims. So the current battle in our cultural landscape is between those who have discovered an understanding of Islam and can separate the terrorists who abuse Islamic law for their own gains and the vast majority of peaceful Muslims who practice the faith in peace.
But, how much more ignorance can our country endure? The death of those in Wisconsin can never be seen as anything but a tragedy. I will not add to the pain by saying something good can come out of it. But like 9-11, we all have an opportunity to stretch ourselves. To better understand the wonderful tapestry of our national community and to seek out information and understanding of others. You can do it by simply reading about other people, this is not a great way, but it is the easiest. A step further could be attending a cultural community event like the several offered by Spirit and Place Festival which demands interfaith cooperation. Join an interfaith group working on a community cause you feel is important, like fighting hunger through work with the Interfaith Hunger Initiative or Global Interfaith Partnership. Or you may simply ask your co-worker, your neighbor or the guy you but your coffee from everyday that you pretend to have a friendship with, about their weekend. You will be surprised what you find out. It isn’t hard. People do it every day. But don’t do it like an explorer seeking out the exotic. The thoughts, language and practices of a people may seem unusual, but remain mainstream religions are not immune to appearing odd. For example there is a religious tradition where a large tree is cut down, brought into the home and decorated like the gaming floor of a casino. Another invites friends and family over 8 days after a baby boy is born to witness the snipping off of the foreskin and then all have egg salad. When you see your traditions apart from context they too seem weird. I also caution you to not let that one individual be a representative of all of that particular faith. Remember for every faith tradition there is a wide variety of practice and belief. Learning about a person and his traditions is not the end of the journey but a beginning. But each drop of knowledge you can consume will you’re your bucket of understanding.
We are a great country. We have overcome slavery, huge waves of immigration, discrimination against Germans, Catholics, Jews, Irish, Italians, Chinese, and Japanese and on and on. We fear the unknown but America has always faced its fear directly and struck a blow against it. We may always have to wage the fight, but this kind of fight is sacred. It will be good for America, it will be good for your city, your neighborhood, your home. And it will be good for your heart.
May the memory of those killed at the hands of hate be blessing for their families and may they find rest in the eternal and may their families find comfort from their community and their relationship with God.