The Columbus Dispatch - Joanne Viviano
If central Ohio is to be truly accepting and understanding of Muslims, interfaith work must move beyond conversation and into action, advocates said Monday, as they thanked Columbus City Council members for passing a resolution condemning Islamophobia and declaring support for the city's Islamic community.
Among reasons for the resolution were to recognize Columbus as a diverse community, to stand up against anti-Muslim bigotry and to promote laws and policies that value diversity, said Councilman Michael Stinziano.
"We're like a big jigsaw puzzle, and every piece is different, every community is different," added Councilwoman Elizabeth C. Brown. "And we fit together in a beautiful way that creates a full picture of a strong community."
For years, the interfaith community has been trying to bring those puzzle pieces together through conversation, and it is now time to serve alongside one another, said Phil Washburn, president of the Interfaith Association of Central Ohio.
"One of the things we're realizing is, more and more, we need to bring those puzzle pieces together through action," he said.
Over the past year, and especially since December, harassment, intimidation and discrimination against Muslims have gone up exponentially around the country, said Romin Iqbal of the Ohio chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
In Ohio, there have been recent reports of discrimination in renting apartments to Muslims, as well as people being harassed as they drop off children at school, drive on the interstate, stop at the bank or shop at grocery stores.
"It is stunning because we have not heard this before," Iqbal said.
In central Ohio, CAIR is currently handling more than 60 discrimination cases for Muslims.
Resolutions such as the one passed unanimously by the Columbus City Council are not common, and Iqbal said there are plans to push other central Ohio communities to do the same.
Stinziano, who introduced the resolution, said the idea came from Jewish Voice for Peace of Central Ohio.
Amy Shuster, of that group, challenged those gathered to learn more from one another to increase understanding.
"As a Jew, I was raised to believe 'never again,' and what that means to me is never again will we stand by as a community and watch people be brutalized and victimized by extremist hate groups," Shuster said.
The resolution comes amid a pending complaint that the Ohio chapter of CAIR filed with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission alleging employment discrimination over Columbus officials' refusal to allow female police officers to wear head scarves in the Islamic tradition.
The matter was not discussed by the panel.
Council President Zach Klein said the council will "always promote openness, tolerance, love, inclusivity and the acceptance of other people."
"There's a lot of national rhetoric driven out of our political scene that we adamantly disagree with, we reject," he said. "We stand with other cultures and other people who don't look like us, who are different than us and have different religions than us."
Other members of the city council, of the local Muslim community, and supporters from other faiths also spoke during a panel discussion before Monday's city council meeting.
Though there is Islamophobia, there also is a lot of love, cohesion and optimism in the interfaith communiy, said Imran Malik, executive president of the Noor Islamic Cultural Center in Hilliard.
He said Columbus could serve as a model for the rest of the country.
"We all have to work and focus on faith in action," he said. "Faith in words has been old school. I think we have to take it to the next level and work our convictions to actions.
"Together we can make a difference, not only here in Columbus, Ohio, but also nationwide."