The frequency of hate crimes and the number of hate groups in the U.S. has grown at an alarming rate over the last year. Although virtually every minority and marginalized group has been affected, the Southern Poverty Law Center says that the Muslim community has been targeted most often.
The Winston-Salem area has not been immune. On Feb. 16, at least one participant in a meeting in Kernersville called for the murder of Muslims. “My only recommendation is to start killing the hell out of them,” that participant said, according to published reports. “I’m ready to start taking people out.”
The meeting included a presentation on “a supposed Muslim plot to conquer the United States,” media reports said. “Shed some blood, too,” the same participant said in response to the presenter’s call to “shed some light” on the issue, according to the council.
As an organization created to bring peace through understanding, Interfaith Winston-Salem has a responsibility to address the root causes of the hate and to work to improve relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims.
Our first response was collaboration on Friday, Feb. 24 with representatives of Forsyth County’s three Islamic mosques – Annoor Islamic Center in Clemmons, The Community Mosque on Waughtown Street and Masjid al-Mu’minun on Harriet Tubman Blvd. – to invite members of the community to open houses at the mosques. Several hundred people came, many entering a mosque and meeting a Muslim for the first time.
Since then, representatives of Interfaith Winston-Salem have continued to work with representatives of the three mosques to identify other ways to build understanding. Approximately 20 members of the mosques have volunteered to meet with non-Muslim groups.
Over the last few weeks we have met with representatives of the Southern Province of the Moravian Church, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the Yadkin Valley District of the United Methodist Church and individual Presbyterian and United Methodist churches.
While tailoring future Muslim-Christian gatherings to specific needs and situations, we will be using two primary models. The goal in both cases is to avoid “talking to the choir,” to reach people who have neutral or negative impressions of Muslims and Islam.
1. In planning for the Moravian Church Missions Society meeting in August, we will ask representatives on the Society board to invite someone who they know has concerns about Muslims or about the Islamic religion.
2. The recommended basic format for other gatherings is to have at least one Muslim meet with non-Muslims in small groups around tables to discuss questions, share values and talk about how they live out the calls of their faiths. The sessions will conclude with comments from table leaders and answers to questions submitted in advance. We expect to use this format when we meet with members of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Winston-Salem in July.
As we move forward with the meetings, we will make adjustments to ensure that everyone is gaining the greatest benefit.
Interfaith Winston-Salem welcomes other churches and groups to contact us if they would like to be part of this ongoing effort. We can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.