Out of Ashes, Hope: US Muslims Support Black Churches

The day after the Charleston Church Massacre, my personal media hero, Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, was unable to tell a joke. He spent the opening of his show expressing his grief, and also his soul-sickness at the inability of the U.S. to “heal this racial wound,” or even to acknowledge its existence. (That’s why he’s my hero.)

It’s Jon Stewart’s job to rub Americans’ noses in painful truths. Since I couldn’t possibly improve on that job, I’ve taken on a different, but related assignment: to highlight small signs of improvement wherever I can find them.

This week’s sign of hope comes courtesy of Al-Jazeera, which published an article last week detailing how a coalition of U.S. Muslim groups has been spending Ramadan fund-raising to rebuild Black churches victimized by arson:

The coalition — which consists of U.S. organizations Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative and the Arab American Association of New York as well as digital startup Ummah Wide — has so far raised over $23,000 in five days. After the campaign ends on July 18, the money will be given to pastors of the burned churches that need it most, the groups said.

Like black communities in the United States, the coalition wrote, American Muslims are also vulnerable to intimidation, though not to the same extent as African-Americans.

“The American Muslim community cannot claim to have experienced anything close to the systematic and institutionalized racism and racist violence that has been visited upon African-Americans,” organizer Imam Zaid Shakir wrote on the campaign’s website.

However, Muslims can understand the “climate of racially inspired hate and bigotry that is being reignited in this country,” he wrote, saying the American Muslim community should stand in solidarity with African-Americans.

Racism, bigotry and violence are not going away any time soon. Blessings be upon those who stand up to them by reaching out like this. I don’t know any of these people, but I take comfort, for myself and for my country, in their existence.

I Want to Celebrate the Gay Marriage Opinion Without Rubbing Opponents’ Noses in it; Can I?

My first thought on hearing the news that gay marriage is now the law of our land: “Hallelujah!”

My second, third, and fourth thoughts were more along the lines of “Praise be!” “Finally!” “What a joyous day!”

Only much later (these first four thoughts took up most of my morning) did this thought surface: “Take THAT, you small-hearted legislators who want to keep other people from celebrating their honest love the same way you get to!”

This NY Times.com photo's caption reads, "Pooja Mandagere and Natalie Thompson celebrate the Supreme Court's decision" (NYTimes.com)

This NY Times.com photo’s caption reads, “Pooja Mandagere and Natalie Thompson celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision” (NYTimes.com)

I struggled with Thought #5 most of my bike ride home. The better angels of my nature want to believe that people who oppose gay marriage aren’t really MEAN, they’re just one loved-one away from understanding that gay marriage is about LOVE, the same love that they believe flows from God–or IS God.

The worse angels (are there worse angels?) whisper, “Forget ’em. People like that have made gays second-class citizens for generations, and they’re finally on the losing side of history. Why waste time understanding?”

I got my answer from an unlikely source: President Obama.

Arriving home just past noon, I heard The Mate call, “You’re just in time to hear the end of the President’s speech.” He was watching the funeral for Reverend Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of Charleston’s Mother Emanuel AME Church who was gunned down last week with eight other prayerful souls.

So I watched, and listened. And something the President said resonated with the conversation I’d just been having with my angels–even though it had absolutely nothing to do with gay marriage.

Reverend Pinckney once said, “Across the south, we have a deep appreciation of history. We haven’t always had a deep appreciation of each other’s history.”

He was talking about the racial divide, about the way one barred and starred flag could be so revered and so despised by the people of one region. But I almost felt he–or Rev. Pinckney–was talking to me.

I don’t mean to suggest by this that people who push legislation restricting gay rights need me to look deeply into their eyes and “appreciate” them. I think they are wrong, and the laws they support are wrong. But I DO think I need to force myself not to gloat over the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.

I want to. Oh, I do. I want to dance down the Main Street of every town in every state that’s resisted this decision. But even more than that, just as in Charleston, I want to MOVE FORWARD, not create a backlash. Dylann Roof, the Charleston murderer, embodied the backlash against racial progress. I don’t want to help create the anti-gay version of that pathetic, hate-filled kid.

That means I need to listen, where I can, to voices I disagree with. I can argue–and I will. And I can pray for changes of heart, and hope that history will indeed be the judge of justice on this one. But I will try not to gloat. Gloating’s no way to achieve the amazing grace we are capable of reaching, now and then, even in this divided country.

And speaking of Amazing Grace, feel free to sing along with the Commander in Chief:

asfsaiwue oiu