By Rev. Shalom Agtarap, photo by Neal McNamara/patch.com
I took my nephew and niece to Jefferson Park in Seattle the other day and was reminded once again of the gifts in our multicultural, multilingual community; it makes me proud to call Seattle home. I grew up on Beacon Hill and am an ordained minister serving in the south end. The pride I feel when I share where I grew up and where I now minister is due in part to the religious, ethnic, and cultural diversity of the area. It makes me pay special attention then, when events like the nationwide March Against Sharia, originally set for Portland, occurred this past Saturday in Seattle. These marches were planned for 23 cities in over 18 states. Let’s be real, this is not what our community stands for.
I was at SeaTac the night the immigration ban went into effect. Ours, and airport protests across the country, brought together thousands of Americans from every walk of life in support of civil rights and equal treatment. The March Against Sharia is completely misleading and is nothing more than an anti-Muslim front for fringe groups to air their conspiracy-laden grievances. There might be handfuls of people in attendance whose views do not represent our shared values of freedom and equality because this is simply not what Seattle is about.
We are living in a time of unprecedented attacks on Muslims and folks appearing to be Muslim. I want to encourage us to show up and speak out against these displays of racist rhetoric and resist the urge to turn a blind eye or act like it’s not our problem. It is absolutely our problem when young people are harassed and feel unsafe, told to “Go home!” when this is their only home. Seattle is not immune to these horrific acts; take a trip down to the Wing Luke Museum and you’ll be reminded of the racist, anti-American rhetoric that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act, the incarceration of Japanese Americans, and now, the March Against Sharia.
I know well that Americans of many faiths, including Catholics, and Jews, draw on religious teachings to guide their lives, and American Muslims are no different. As a person of faith, I joined labor unions and other faith leaders in asking Jeff Bezos to create prayer space for their workers and they complied! There is designated prayer space for over 800 contract workers to use during their breaks in this season of Ramadan. I understood the work of advocating for these Muslim workers to be an act of faith. I’m glad that Amazon took the right steps for their workers. These are actions befitting a company based in our great city.
Major cities across the country face similar problems and I believe this is a pivotal moment to be engaged in shaping the city we want to live in. I am so proud of Seattle and the city we are becoming as we stand for religious freedom and respect for individuals. Just like the singing crowd gathered immediately following the Manchester attack or the widower whose wife died in the Bataclan attack in Paris last year, and whose open letter to the terrorists included this: “I will insult you with my happiness.” When you and I stand together against bigotry and desperate attempts of fear mongering, we refuse to give them the fear they need to survive.
Rev. Shalom Agtarap is the Associate Director of Strategic Faith Community Development for the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.