This afternoon, the Islamic Center of Wheaton hosted “A Day of Solidarity: A Day of Peace with Friends and Neighbors.” The event was planned in response to a recent cyberattack – a a cowardly, disturbing, and vile email campaign and fake web site (including doctored photos of Wheaton College faculty who had visited the Islamic Center) meant to incite hatred of and violence against the local Muslim population. It now seems the perpetrators have also been sending harassing letters to some Muslim residents of Wheaton. In response, the Islamic Center hosted a lovely event for the community. After a delicious meal, ten panelists gave remarks on the recent events, community dynamics, and Muslim-Christian relations.
Panelists included the Islamic Center’s president, its resident scholar, and a representative of its Interfaith Committee; the chief of the Wheaton Police Department; a representative of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago; a representative of the Council on American Islamic Relations; a local pastor, the Mayor of Wheaton; and two members of the Wheaton College faculty. Dr. Matthew Milliner and I were honored to participate in the panel and in the Q&A afterward. Matt’s remarks are here. Mine are below. There may be ever-so-slight slight discrepancies between the written remarks that I prepared (reproduced below) and the actual remarks, but video should be available soon enough.
I’ll open my remarks by building upon Dr. Milliner’s comment on the architecture of this building. No doubt many of you have noticed the verse from the prophet Isaiah engraved on the front of the building by the previous occupants. It is notable, I think, that it’s been left here since the Islamic Center took over the property. That isn’t, I assume, for lack of initiative or resources, as many changes to other parts of the building can attest to the shift. I presume it is because Christians and Muslims share to a certain extent a commitment to the teachings of that verse: “You shall rebuild the cities.” I take it the placement of that verse means that we should together build communities that promote the prosperity, wellbeing, and peace of everyone in them.
When the first evidences of the cyberattack were brought to my attention, I immediately, thought of our neighbors, Talal, Iman, Omar, and Omar’s son, who had so recently hosted us here at the Islamic Center. When the full faked web site came to my attention, I was disgusted at its cowardly, vile, and disturbing attack upon Islam and our Muslim neighbors. When the photo of Wheaton College faculty was revealed on one page, a colleague also pictured in the photo said that perhaps it was a privilege to be in the photo, standing with those who were hated, who were being attacked, standing with our neighbors.
But we should not only stand with those who are wrongly reviled during times of crisis. We should stand with our neighbors during times of calm. As our new chaplain at Wheaton College pointed out on Wednesday, those of us affiliated with the college should be embracing the best parts of the college’s legacy, by standing in solidarity with our neighbors.
We don’t always do this, but when we don’t, Christians affirm that it is because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ that we can be delivered from our sin – and it is a sin not to stand with our neighbors. When we do stand with them, we can be assured that we are promoting the shalom of our communities, that we are rebuilding our cities.
As Shaykh Abdool Rahman Khan just said, we do not have to hold the same religious beliefs to stand together for justice. We do not have to hold the same religious beliefs to stand together for rebuilding our cities – to build communities that are committed to the wellbeing of all.
This is, as the title of the event says, “A Day of Solidarity.” Solidarity does not require us to eliminate difference in favor of sameness, but to eliminate indifference and hatred in favor of love and justice.
Thank you for having me here today.