When you reflected on Sept. 11, 2001, what came to mind? If you were of age, we imagine that heartache, confusion, fear and anger were dominant emotions. You turned to family, friends, neighbors and co-workers for comfort. Many of you leaned on the values and traditions of your faith for strength and solace.
The pain that we all felt was intensified for some of our fellow citizens who were treated with suspicion because of religion, skin color, clothing and hair style. Hate crimes against Muslims, and those thought to be Muslim, grew overnight. The first victim of a revenge killing after 9/11 was Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh American. And every year since, on the anniversary of 9/11, an increase of violence and bullying persists.
This year’s 20th commemoration of 9/11 has been a landmark, and it once again coincides with grim circumstances, death and suffering in Afghanistan. As Afghans make their way to safety in America, we are reminded that supporting our neighbors of other faith traditions has never been more urgent.
In a world where so much is outside our power to change, there is one constant. Each one of us has the opportunity to expand hospitality and to promote appreciative understanding of others in our own local community. It is empowering to know that our personal example has the potential to inspire others to think differently. Welcome a new neighbor. Support refugees. Refrain from sharing information on social media that may be from dubious sources, or which reinforces stereotypes of others and invokes hate and violence. If you are a teacher or student, be aware that Muslim youth report a significant increase in hateful comments and physical abuse on Sept. 11 every year (source: Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign).
Knowing the reality of Islamophobia, the increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans, anti-Semitism and racism, as well as anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiment, please take intentional, peaceful steps to support your neighbors from all faith traditions this month and every day of the year. Let us commit ourselves to the work of building relationships across our differences and to working together for a more inclusive, just, peaceful and loving world.
Dr. Anantanand Rambachan, Hindu leader, is emeritus professor of religion at Saint Olaf College in Northfield. The Rev. Bradley Schmeling is pastor at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in St. Paul. Both are working to enhance interfaith relationships in Minnesota.
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