"How terrible that someone would write ‘Muslims Go Home’ when they are home!” exclaimed a neighbor who helped organize a team of volunteers to support Nashville's Muslim community after a mosque was defaced. The community's swift response reaffirmed its commitment to inclusiveness.
FEAR INSPIRES HATE
Hate crimes against Muslims in America rose sharply after September 11, 2001, and Muslim communities continue to face backlash to this day. Nashville’s Al-Farooq mosque, whose congregation is composed mainly of recent Somali immigrants, was the most recent victim. On Feb.10, an unknown perpetrator vandalized the mosque with red spray-painted crosses and the words “Muslims Go Home,” and left a threatening letter that railed against Islam.
“There are some ignorant people who are […] on this campaign of defaming our faith. Fortunately most people are very savvy of the fact that these people are hatemongers,” said Amir Arain, director of public relations for the Islamic Center of Nashville.
Arain charged the media with playing a role in fueling anti-Muslim sentiment. Just two days before the vandalism, a local television station aired a story suggesting ties between a nearby Muslim community and terrorism.
SENDING A NEW MESSAGE
Once word of the hate crime spread, neighbors and community members began to phone, email, and arrive at the mosque in person, offering to help the congregation paint over the offensive messages. Todd Lake, vice president of spiritual development at nearby Belmont University, saw a photograph of the graffiti in the morning paper.
“It was just terrible that the cross, a sign of God’s love for us, was used to terrorize, once again, a minority community here in Tennessee, and so I just asked [them] what would help, and said that Belmont would be happy to pay for the supplies to cover this up, and they said that’d be great,” Lake recounted. Along with other volunteers, he purchased anti-graffiti spray and white paint, and covered the hateful message within an hour.
The volunteer painters were not only erasing a message of hate, but sending a message of their own, Lake explained. “I was able to say we want to be loving and welcoming and hospitable to all of our neighbors, but in particular our newest neighbors, neighbors who don’t necessarily speak English like those at the Al Farooq mosque."
LEARNING TO LIVE TOGETHER
Coincidentally, the Islamic Center of Nashville had planned to host an open house on Saturday, as part of an ongoing effort to educate the community about Islam. A flyer advertising the event read, “Learn about the religion shared by 1.5 billion people of the Earth’s population. This is a chance to clear up any misconceptions about Islam and Muslims so we can be educated about each other and learn to live in peace and harmony.”
After the hate incident, the Islamic Center modified the event to address the crime. An interfaith panel including leaders from Jewish and Christian congregations facilitated a discussion called “Nashville Stands with Muslim Community: Violence Against One Community Hurts Us All.”
Doug Sanders, an associate minister at Otter Creek Church, attended the open house. “Sure, there’s things we’re never going to agree on, spiritually and in some of those things, but the reality is we’ve got so many things we can agree on […] that we can all work together on,” he said. “And that sends a message to the rest of our community, like the folks that did this, that says, ‘that’s not what we’re about.’”
After the event, Al-Farooq mosque posted a notice thanking the community for its support. Writing that the perpetrators' aim was to cause discord between the city's Muslim and non-Muslim populations, the notice pointed out that the opposite occured instead. "People from different backgrounds came to support us; this has confirmed to us what we always believed, that Nashville is a welcoming city.”
What happens after an incident brings diverse members from the community together, do new bridges form and create a noticeable change in the overall community? Share stories of what has happened in your community.