Muslims, Catholics find common ground through MLK

Hasan Zillur Rahim | San Jose Mercury News Link to Article

Bishop Patrick McGrath is shown blessing the construction site as the Holy Cross Church, which was destroyed by fire, was rededicated in San Jose in December. The Bishop inspired participants at a forum at the Shia Center on Martin Luther King Day. (Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group)

Bishop Patrick McGrath is shown blessing the construction site as the Holy Cross Church, which was destroyed by fire, was rededicated in San Jose in December. The Bishop inspired participants at a forum at the Shia Center on Martin Luther King Day. (Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group)

“If you want peace, work for justice. That includes housing the homeless, ending the death penalty, organizing labor unions, standing up for minority rights, and countering rising Islamophobia in the U.S.” So said Dublin-born San Jose Diocese Bishop Patrick Joseph McGrath, leader of over 50 Catholic churches in Santa Clara County and the prime mover behind the Catholic-Muslim dialogue held at the Shia Association of the Bay Area (SABA) Center on Martin Luther King Day.

Bishop McGrath quoted MLK to make his point: “Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

“Xenophobia has always been a part of America’s social and political landscape,” he reminded the overflow audience of about 500 Christians and Muslims that included San Jose’s Mayor Sam Liccardo, Police Chief Eddie Garcia and several elected officials.

“But we have much more in common than what divides us. Both the Bible and the Quran list mercy and justice as foremost divine attributes. I ask each one of you to use your light to replace the darkness of hate.”

Aurora Solis, a Latina leader with San Jose-based ‘People Acting in Community Together’ (PACT), spoke of a co-worker who told her, “I am a Muslim. I am scared. What will happen to me and my family?”

Her response: “I will be with you. My friends and I will register as Muslims if it comes to that. We will work with Muslims so we can become better Christians.”

Tahir Anwar, an Imam and a long-time Bay Area activist since 1983, spoke passionately of the Golden Rule, a common theme that unites the major religions of the world: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

He reminded the gathering of the Muslim version enunciated by the Prophet Muhammad: “None of you will believe until you love for your brother what you love for yourself.”

“All of us must make a habit of visiting synagogues, churches, mosques and other places of worship,” he said. “Islamophobia poses a threat not just for Muslims but for everyone. If our phones are tapped, yours will be too, sooner or later. The Quran says we will have some good days and some not-so-good days. That is life. But if we work together, we will overcome.”

Speaker after speaker reminded us of the importance of extending hospitality to strangers, not to be haughty but to associate with the lowly, to cherish our diversity, to overcome evil with good, not to suffer injustice with silence but to engage in non-violent activism that can change the world for the better.

There is a moral momentum growing across America. The day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, an estimated 200,000 women are expected to participate in the Women’s March on Washington. On a smaller scale, this symbolic march will be enacted in cities throughout America, including San Jose, Oakland and San Francisco.

As in other cities, San Jose city leaders approved a campaign to create sanctuary places in schools and churches if deportation sweeps occur, while Santa Clara County supervisors allocated $1.5 million to provide legal aid for undocumented workers in danger of deportation.

The backdrop of the stage where the religious leaders sat at the SABA Center on MLK Day contained these words of Imam Ali (601-661), son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad: “Man is either your brother in faith, or your equal in humanity.”

These are Dr. Martin Luther King’s words too, and the words of America’s founding fathers, even if expressed differently. MLK’s “fierce urgency of now” has taken on a significance none of us could have contemplated only a few months back.