Specializing in Religion
Columbus, Ohio, USA

Reflections at the Year’s End

It has been upsetting to think about all that has happened in the past year. Like many, I’ve felt myself turning a bit inward to try to avoid the maelstrom around me. I haven’t posted in a while. But as 2016 draws to a close, I realize that it might be helpful to reflect more on some of the events of recent months – not to dwell on the problems, but to identify positive courses of action.

Ohio’s Muslim communities have been particularly active this year, both in trying to make their voices heard and building bridges and understanding within the broader public. Back in October, I attended a speech by Linda Sarsour, a Muslim political activist from Brooklyn. I was particularly struck by something she said in this regard: “And people say to me all the time, they say, ‘Sister Linda, every time I turn on the television it’s Muslims. It’s Islam, counter-terrorism, national security. It’s always about bloodshed. It’s Syria, it’s refugees.’ You know why? When you are not part of the conversation, then the conversation is going to be about you without you. . . The question is, how do we get out of that frame? And the way we do that is by participating and engaging and lifting our voices.”

On and before Election Day, thousands of Muslims went to the polls, including at the Noor Islamic Cultural Center, one of the more prominent polling sites in northwest Columbus.

The day before Thanksgiving, MyFamilyPantry, a new endeavor of the Muslim program MyProjectUSA, gathered to distribute food to needy community members, both Muslim and non-Muslim alike. According to event organizers, the food distribution was an effort to articulate common human needs and build bridges.

After November’s knife attack on The Ohio State University campus, a local mosque, Masjid Omar Ibn El-Khattab, held an open house to educate the public about Islam and its practices. About 300 people crammed into the men’s prayer room for the panel discussion and lunch, which lasted several hours.

Other Americans have taken to the streets to voice discontent, and have garnered national attention. On OSU’s campus, protesters held an anti-Trump march and rally, which loudly condemned racism and bigotry.

One day later, a group of people protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline blocked a major Columbus intersection. In the middle of the intersection, which was directly in front of pipeline-backer Chase Bank, a protester chained himself beneath a van. It took authorities at least 90 minutes to extricate him.

In Clintonville, members of the local pagan community participated in the second-annual Krampus Parade down North High Street. As legend has it, Krampus, the Christmas devil and the Germanic counterpart of Santa Claus, punishes bad children, rather than rewarding good ones. As they chanted and clanged various instruments and noisemakers, parade participants sought to cast evil spirits out of the world.

Perhaps what gives me the most hope, though, is America’s ever-present multiculturalism and diversity, which we must continue to embrace, despite these troubling times. In early December, across the city, Hispanic and Latino Catholics participated in processions for Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico. They trudged for two hours through the snow and slush while carrying a giant figure of the saint.

At the Martin de Porres Center, an American Sign Language choir known as the “Signs of Christmas” gathered to perform Christmas carols.

In southern West Virginia, residents proudly displayed Christmas lights and celebrated the birth of Jesus.

Finally, the evening after the OSU knife attack, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church hosted an interfaith vigil. One of the moving moments of the gathering occurred during a brief speech by Karl Stevens, Missioner for Campus Ministry with the Diocese of Southern Ohio. He had reached out to local Muslims leaders, and to the university’s Muslim Students Association, he said: “They replied that they would love to be here, but they are worried about their safety. Many of their members are at home. I think it’s true for all of us, that we feel our safety has been broken.”

Stevens then read a prayer from their tradition on their behalf.
“They offered this prayer for all of us:
Oh God, I hope for Your mercy.
Do not leave me to myself, even for the blinking of an eye.
Correct all of my affairs for me.
There is none worthy of worship but You.

Thanks for reading, and best wishes for 2017.

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