What is it going to take to awaken us to see our commonalities and not be divided by fear of the other? I am still reeling from the elections. The bigoted, xenophobic, misogynist statements uttered by our presumed president elect were at the least disturbing. Now I understand how millions of people around the world live — in uncertainty. Yes, I am checking my privilege. I have never felt this sense of political uncertainty in my life. I am searching for the silver lining that my faith requires me to do. The supportive words of my friends and colleagues of all backgrounds are heartening. The words of Jewish sisters in our Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom (Sisterhood) demonstrate that there is so much good and hope and that our friendships bridge our religious difference. It is time to work with anyone and everyone who is like-minded to stand up against prejudice, fear and hate.
My parents came to this country as immigrants -– my father from India and my mother from England. They chose to live in America, a country where they felt their family could thrive, a family of mixed ethnicity that was not welcome in their homelands. My father grew up a minority in India as a Muslim and my mother a minority in England as a Catholic. They were able to achieve the “American Dream.” My father was worked as an engineer and was able to support the family and send his three children to college and post-graduate studies debt free. I understand now how lucky we were and how lucky we are. I was taught to always stand up against injustice and to be grateful and give back. My career choices have been driven by those values. We drove to Washington, DC countless times to attend protest marches over the years, and my kids were used to these events. But these protest marches always concerned standing up for other Muslims around the world.
The 1.6 billion Muslims around the world are we are taught comprise our community. While I still believe that, we need to prioritize that our community includes the people who live around us right here in America -– not only Muslims. They say politics are local; well, community is local too. We need to develop deeper bonds –- bonds of intrafaith understanding (yes, I feel Muslims judge each other the most harshly) and bonds of interfaith understanding that are genuine. Genuinely loving for your non-Muslim neighbor what you love for yourself. This is what makes the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom different than another interfaith initiative that I have participated in or that I am aware of. We are about building friendship and breaking down walls –- of fear and ignorance.
So I ask you all to support the Sisterhood in any way possible — join a chapter, form a chapter, attend our conference, attend our Building Bridges Trip, donate on Giving Day. I wrote a previous Sisterhood blog about #All Lives Matter in connection with Black Lives Matter. Now I realize that #Black Lives Matter means all lives matter. We must all stand together for each other especially the most vulnerable -– those victims of institutionalized bias -– those suffering in poverty -– those who are oppressed and in need. This cannot be just lip service. We need to hold those in authority accountable in any way we can and if that needs marching in the street too -– count me in. See you in Washington, DC for the Women’s March on January 21st!
Atiya Aftab, Esq., Co-Founder and Chair, the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom