Signs of the Times: Quakers Stand With Muslims in Carolina
Fayetteville NC — Fayetteville Friends Meeting is small; and Quaker House, the peace project that’s been here, near sprawling Fort Bragg, since 1969, is also small. But they count. And they counted on December 18 when a rally was called to show support for the Masjid Omar Ibn Said, a Muslim mosque there.
You know about all the hateful talk about Muslims in Carolina and so many other places. This state is especially burdened with Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, who has turned his father’s evangelism into a vehicle for frequent loads of anti-Muslim bigotry. And there are many other such voices, in politics as well.
More than voices, news reports indicate that attacks on U.S. Muslims and mosques are at record levels.
That’s why Adam Beyah, a senior member of the Fayetteville mosque, sent out invitations to persons of various faiths to come and stand with Muslims there.
One invitation came to me. And I went; was proud to go. On the way there from my home in Durham, almost two hours away, I stopped at Quaker House, where I used to be Director, and helped make a stack of signs. This project turned the morning into “Flashback Friday”: dozens of times in my eleven-year tenure at Quaker House, we had made signs and posters for peace vigils and other public actions. Most of ours were printed on the office copier, on ivory paper with a black border. Plain, but (we hoped) punchy and pertinent.
This time, we weren’t organizing, just helping out. I cleared the text for the posters with Adam Beyah, to make sure they were sensitive to the group’s outlook. Then we headed out.
As always, we worried about the turnout: we had made about thirty signs: would enough people show up even to carry them?
We shouldn’t have worried. A press tally put the attendance at 150. Our signs were well-received, and the stack disappeared quickly from the sack we brought them in, and popped up all around the gathering.
Besides local Muslims and supporters from other religious groups, some public officials showed up: a city councillor and a County commissioner, and the school superintendent.
As the Fayetteville Observer reported, another city councillor, Bill Crisp, spoke forcefully about fighting bigotry:
Bill Crisp, who sits on the Fayetteville City Council, whipped up the crowd with his comments. First, he told a Junior ROTC cadet standing next to him to hold up his sign about prejudice.
“Stop bigotry,” it read.
“If you look at the hue of my skin,” Crisp said, “you will know that I have been a victim of bigotry for a great part of my life. Bigotry is a cancer. It doesn’t eat at one of us, it eats at all of us. And what is bigotry against me is bigotry against (people in general). The strength of Fayetteville is the diversity of this community. Our cultural diversity. Our ethnic diversity. And our religious diversity. We get along because we respect one another. And we respect the cultures of one another. And the ethnicity of one another.
“This is what a united society is all about.”
Also noteworthy was who did not show up: the mayor had promised, but phoned at the last minute to say he was stuck on a highway across town with a flat tire. Another politician said he was sick in bed.
Fayetteville Police Chief Harold Medlock was on hand, and he endorsed our signs about freedom and safety for all.
Another honored visitor was Eve Eichenholz, the rabbi of the city’s Beth Israel synagogue. She spoke, joked and prayed. A Christian minister from the New Life Christian Academy spoke as well.
And after the speechifying, we trooped across the broad lawn to the sidewalk along Murchison Road, the busy artery that passes the mosque, to share the messages with the traveling public.
Many of the Muslims had brought signs of their own. Many of them were plain and punchy also. And I did not hear any jeers from motorists. In fact, the forces of bigotry were strangely silent on this brilliant, cool afternoon.
For that brief time, one could dare to think we had only been imagining all the hate talk about bans on immigration and Muslim visitors, about walls along the border, and war after war after war. (But we hadn’t imagined it, alas.)
Local news media turned out in force: cameras and microphones were numerous and busy.
As a show of good feeling, this rally was a big success. Will it help change the troubling climate in this country? Will a drop fill a bucket?
No. But this was not the only such public observance challenging the hate-mongering. One hopes there will be many more like it, bigger and better. And if so, there will be many opportunities for Quakers to stand with Muslims across the U.S.