A woman was just attacked for speaking Swahili in a suburban Applebees less than 10 minutes from where I grew up. It's a horrific hate crime and I’m appalled happened so close to my home.
I heard about the attack on the heels of a weekend spent at an interfaith leadership institute. The institute was a powerful time to reflect on my own faith background and identity, to connect with others and hear their stories, and to dream of ways we can promote interfaith dialogue and cooperation in our communities.
We learned the importance of civic pluralism – the idea that regardless of our theology, we live in a diverse society and we should seek to positively engage that diversity. We can find common ground to work towards the common good together.
We also learned that meaningful relationships between people from diverse backgrounds increases appreciative knowledge of other traditions, which in turn drives positive attitudes. I’ve seen this play out in my life time and time again. The transformative power of relationships and hearing others’ stories continues to amaze me.
I could be wrong, but I assume the woman who attacked Jama, named Jodie, has never had a relationship with a Muslim or an immigrant. If she had, she wouldn't of been able to dehumanize Jama and see her as an “other” and a threat - a threat warranting physical assault - for simply looking and talking differently than her.
Jodie has biases against those who are different. We all do. Biases are passed down to us and it is often not our fault we hold them. However unchecked, biases can block relationships and inhibit our hospitality to those who are different from us. They can rob us of a fuller, more compassionate life.
Jama's attack drove home the need for greater interfaith and intercultural understanding and cooperation. It may start with self-reflection, identifying and working through our own biases, pursuing opportunities to meet people who come from different backgrounds, or educating ourselves about different faith traditions.
This world's diversity is rich and beautiful. May we seek to engage it, humbly learn from it, and embrace it. May we ask questions and may those questions draw us deeper and lead to connection with others.