Fulwider 9-5-2010

My Word: Faiths must counter Islamaphobia

Fulwider, Bryan(Orlando Sentinel, September 05, 2010)

By Bryan Fulwider

In Gainesville, a church called the Dove World Outreach Center plans a Quran-burning on Sept. 11, the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States. In Manhattan, protesters and politicians denounce plans to open a mosque and community center two blocks from ground zero. In Tennessee, local and federal authorities investigate a fire at the site of a mosque being built by the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. Preliminary evidence indicates arson.

Ignorance and intolerance are not values espoused by any of the great religions of the world, including Islam. Yet, as a Christian pastor, I’ve become increasingly disturbed by the attitudes of many otherwise reasonable people who profess to believe in freedom of religion and to follow the teachings of Jesus. How did we reach this point?

We’re living in an age where there’s more information, more readily available, than at any other time in history. Yet, ignorance is rampant. We’re living in a world where we’re able to interact with a greater variety of races, creeds and colors than ever before. Yet, intolerance is rising.

In the story of Jesus, there is not one book burning, not one protest against a house of worship, education and peace. Our greatest enemies, in fact, are not loving people who seek to live in accordance with their beliefs, be they Christian, Islamic or Buddhist. Our greatest enemies are extremists who seek to harm those whose faith differs from their own. Too often such acts are carried out in the name of religion. But it’s nothing more than hate, brokenness and sinful behavior.

The day following the tragic events of nine years ago, I met with the Islamic community in its house of worship for prayer. The Rev. Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland, A Church Distributed, and I were the only Christian pastors there that day.

I also convened the Interfaith Council of Central Florida to discuss ways of responding while offering support to the entire community, including our Islamic friends. Through the years, I’ve served on numerous interfaith panels promoting peace and understanding, and led many trialogues with Imam Muhammad Musri and Rabbi Steven Engel.

In June our church sponsored a series of films and discussions led by members of the local Islamic community. Attendees learned that those who follow the true tenets of Islam — the majority of Muslims — are people of peace who clearly reject any notion of violence against others.

Islamaphobia must be countered by Christians and people of other faith traditions ready to engage in the hard work of faithful dialogue and relationship building. Otherwise, as the cliché goes, the terrorists truly do win.

The Rev. Bryan Fulwider is senior minister at First Congregational Church of Winter Park/United Church of Christ, and chair of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.