By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
Around 250 people gathered on January 10, 2016 at the Woodland Mosque to promote unity between community members and Muslims amid mounting anti-Muslim bigotry fomented by some of the presidential hopefuls for the 2016 presidential election.
"Regardless of our race, religion, color, whatever, we are Americans, and we ought to get along," declared by Khalid Saedd, national president of American Muslim Voice Foundation. He was the main person behind the “Hands Around the Woodland Mosque” project to bring together people of different faiths to put aside their individual beliefs and rally to acknowledge their differences while still showing respect for each other.
A huge tent was erected to host the event attended by officials from Woodland City as well as local educators and the spiritual leaders of the United Methodist Church, Congregation Bet Haverim, Unitarian Universalist, Woodland Christian Church, St. John’s Church, St. Luke’s, Holy Rosary Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, along with many others attended to show their support to the Muslims.
The intention was merely to start 2016 with a prayer for peace, harmony and unity Kahlid Saeed told the Woodland Democrat. “This was an interfaith, community program where we wanted to come out and show unity,” Khalid Saeed explained. “We wanted to show that we love each other. I have lived in the community for years and see a lot of different faiths represented. We just want to show that not everyone is like (what some politicians and others have portrayed Muslims to be). We received an overwhelming response. And it’s really heart-warming.
“We want to show everybody that we’re Americans,” he added. “We may look different, but we’re Americans. We have the same aspirations that everybody else. We hate terrorism. In the Muslim community if anyone is doing something suspicious we are the first ones to go after them and turn them in.”
His views were echoed by Dr. Firdos Sheikh, neurologist and AMV Sacramento Communications Director, who said she was tired of seeing how Muslims were portrayed by politicians and the news media.
Expressing her excitement as hundreds of people gathering to show their support for his community, Dr. Firdos said: “I feel like a family today. I feel the love and the community and I feel that a new world is going to happen.”
She quoted the late Dr. Martin Luther King as saying that there is “nothing worse than sincere ignorance” and that such ignorance applies to faith as well as intelligence. Her aim, she said, was to educate others about the peaceful nature of Islam.
“(We) need to get past that stage of how we connect to God and to create a spiritual confluence and rise above that state of our personal choice of how we pray. It is now who we pray for or why we pray.” “I think I have learned since childhood that all religions teach us the same thing,” she continued, “otherwise we wouldn’t be thinking of God or praying to God. So, in order to start a spiritual confluence we decided to have this beautiful event. And what I realized is that religion is basically identified by colors. How ironically that color has become a means of conflict. Yet, we are all represented by colors.
Samina Sundas, founding executive director of the American Muslim Voice, said all Muslims need to be ambassadors of Islam, and that while it’s important to practice their faith, Muslims must also do something to communicate the peaceful nature of their beliefs as well as the showing of respect for others of different faiths.
Pointing to a young Muslim child, Sundas said it was important to make sure the young understood this message. “This boy came and stood in line wanting to get food,” she said. “I told him ‘No, you cannot eat until you have helped serve others.’” The boy understood and started handing out water bottles to those who were thirsty.
More than 20 community and faith leaders spoke at the service, including Woodland Mayor Tom Stallard. "I fundamentally believe in the First Amendment of separation of church and state, but that doesn't mean we can't have no influence of religion in our civic life," Stallard said.
"The Muslim community is part of the American value and culture and they're here to stay. They should be inclusive," Yolo County Schools superintendent Dr. Jessie Ortiz said.
Some felt the greater challenge was reaching those not at the event. "The way to counter that is through standing together, acts of kindness, acts of courage, reaching out to each other, making it clear that the people united will not succumb to an environment of fear," said Rev. Kristin Stoneking Exec. Director, Fellowship of Reconciliation.
The AMV President, Khalid Saeed announced that events similar to this will be held at different places of worship throughout the year.
Here is partial list of the speakers at "Hands Around the Woodland Mosque" gathering:
Rabbi Greg Wolfe - Synagogue-Congregation Bet, Michael Hirsh- Synagogue-Congregation Bet, Rev Elizabeth Brick – United Methodist Church, Rev Terri Hobart – St. Lukes Church, Rev Jeanelyse Doran Adams, Rev Bill Schroeder St. John’s Church, Rev. Kristin Stoneking Exec. Director, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Rev Larry Love - Woodland Christian Church, Rev Will Norman – St. John Church, Father Jonathan Molina - Holy Rosary Church, Retired Father Connor Lynn, Episcopal priest Davis, Dr. Anne Kjemtrup, Salam Center, Leader Bahai Religion, Judge Cruz Reynoso, Former California Supreme Court Justice, Paul Navazio - City Manager Woodland.
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