November 12 – For Love’s Sake
“For Love’s Sake: Life as an Ally in the Age of Islamophobia” took place on November 12 at UIndy’s Schwitzer Hall, presented by the Muslim Alliance of Indiana. The event featured a panel discussion moderated by Waseema Ali, Managing Director of the Desmond Tutu Center; and featured Erin Polley, the Program Coordinator for the Indiana Peacebuilding Program; Dr. Edward Curtis, Millennium Chair of the Liberal Arts and Professor of Religious Studies at IUPUI; Hassan Sheikh, Michigan Director of Emgage; and Richard McKinney, former Marine, retired soldier turned Muslim and former President of the Islamic Center of Muncie.
Curtis began by telling the audience about his experience growing up as a fifth-generation Arab-American in rural Southern Illinois and shared how he came to be a professor of Islam, which comes with its own challenges in this day and age. Since 9/11 Curtis has lectured frequently in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East about the role of Islam and Muslims in U.S. On a local scale, Curtis goes to community colleges and K-12 institutions to help integrate world religions into their classes. Curtis’s chosen battle is to help combat Islamophobia and he does this by awarding grants to programs, like the one Polley runs, to prevent Islamophobia in greater Indianapolis.
Polley is an alley to the Muslim community and dedicates her work to building a community of allies. Through the American Friends Service Committee, Polley works to create workshops to educate people on how to be allies to Muslims. One piece of advice that Polley gave is that you do not have to be an expert to be an ally. Someone does not have to be well versed in Islam itself to show support and be a friend to Muslims.
Through his work at Emgage, Sheikh unites Muslim communities from all over Michigan. Within any community there can be divide, but Sheikh looks at how to bring all parties to the table. Sheikh talked about how political engagement is important in the Muslim community and challenged the notion of how some are more concerned about politics of the country they left compared to the country that they are living in. He encouraged people to vote in local elections because that is going to be what will directly affect them the most.
McKinney moved the audience through his emotional journey from wanting to eradicate Muslims to becoming one. McKinney is a war veteran who came back from Afghanistan with deeply ingrained feelings of hatred towards Muslims which catalyzed a plan to blow up his local mosque. After reflecting on his daughter’s interactions with a Muslim boy at her school, McKinney decided to visit the mosque he intended to blow up and see what it what Islam and Muslims are all about. Within a couple minutes inside the mosque, McKinney was approached by a man who asked how he was doing. This interaction was followed by another man engaging in answering McKinney’s questions and giving him a translation of the Quran to read and telling him to come back and ask any questions that he comes up with. That shifted his journey to love and care took McKinney down a different path, eventually leading to him become a Muslim. The place which he once wanted to blow up is now his place of worship.
One common theme throughout the panel was action. McKinney said, “faith without action is dead.” Whether it is by building allies, getting people out to vote, or providing workshops on Islamophobia, there needs to be action. All panel members are active in interfaith work and believe that it is a great avenue to work in. In closing, it is the allies we make and the communities we build that makes us stronger.