The massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday is a blow against the very soul of America. If there is one value which defines us, it is freedom of religion. It is the first amendment to our constitution, an amendment without which this union would have failed. The horrible slaughter of 11 innocent worshippers is another reminder that hate is getting out of control in our country. If we cannot secure the first freedom of our citizens then we are no better than a banana republic.
I joined the Delaware Jewish community’s vigil at the University of Delaware in support of the victims and to bear witness to their suffering. While the Jewish community was the primary target, all minorities, all faith communities and our social fabric itself are collateral damage. The frequency of hate crimes and violent episodes in America, I am afraid might make us immune to the pain and obscure the significance of what happened. We cannot and must not accept this reality as the new normal. No civilization can harbor and survive such cruelty and prejudice.
The Pittsburgh massacre was the biggest and most violent act of anti-Semitism in American history. The American Jewish community is perhaps the most integrated, the most influential and the wealthiest minority in the United States. If it is not safe from the growing intolerance in this country then no one is? Those who think that killing minorities and violating the fundamental human rights of marginalized and vulnerable people will make America great again are dead wrong. Such violent moments will only make America a failed state.
As I stood outside Memorial Hall at the University of Delaware, with a large multi-faith congregation that had come to stand in solidarity with the Jewish community, I felt assured that in spite of the daily reminder of hate and violence that is out there, there is also a lot of goodness that is worth fighting for. The fellowship, the sense of community and belonging, the mutual care and shared grief was palpable. As people sang and prayed I was able to make eye-contact with so many of the community members. They either smiled or nodded in acknowledgement. This mutual recognition and the unsaid but clearly shared sentiment — thanks for being here, we are in it together – was the reward for those who came. We are still a community and in spite of it all – anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, xenophobia, Islamophobia — we will endure.
The resilience that our communities develop and display in response to such tragedies are the best byproducts of such tragedies. Just as hate mongers incite fear and violence, the inherent goodness in people produces these moments of spontaneous solidarity that re-glue our communities with hope and resolve.
Several members of the Muslim community of Delaware joined the rally. We drove there directly from a funeral service at the mosque. An important member of the community, Brother Shadi Mabrouk, passed away on Friday and hundreds of people had come to the mosque to pay their respects. He was of Palestinian origin and was very active with the community. He was a friend who supported enthusiastically many of our efforts to promote interfaith relations.
The Islamic funeral prayer has four parts. In the first part we pray the first chapter of the Quran, in the second part we send blessings to Prophet Muhammad, in the third part we pray for the deceased and in the fourth part we pray for the world at large. Today in the third part I prayed for God’s grace for my Palestinian Brother, and in the fourth part I prayed for the congregation of the Tree of Life synagogue.
To me this symbolizes what being an American is all about. We all come from different places, have different religious beliefs, we may even have different visions for American policies and politics, but underneath all of that diversity is the shared value of recognizing each other’s humanity and respecting each other’s basic rights.
The key to a diverse, vibrant and prosperous society is this core value; the recognition of the equal moral worth of all people. As long as we value each other and treat each other as equals, we can disagree about everything else — God, guns, immigration, global warming, taxes and health care – we will remain strong and dynamic and acts of terrorism like the one in Pittsburgh will not dent our sense of community.
Dr. Muqtedar Khan is professor at the University of Delaware and a member of Creative Learning’s Academic Advisory Committee. He tweets at @MuqtedarKhan and his website is www.ijtihad.org.
This article was originally published by Delaware Online.