BY NIKKEI FOR CIVIL RIGHTS & REDRESS NCRR SEPT. 11 COMMITTEE
This is the holy month of Ramadan when observant Muslims carry out acts of compassion and charity, fast from sunup and “break their fast” at sundown to reaffirm their faith. Following the Islamic lunar calendar, in 2001 Ramadan fell during the month of December when the first “Break the Fast” dinner between Muslims and Japanese Americans took place at Senshin Buddhist Temple which had already reached out to the local Omar Mosque after Sept. 11.
Reverend Kodani of Senshin Buddhist Temple posed the question, “Why do we have to find ways that we are the same in order to support each other? In fact, isn’t it even more important to recognize the differences and still come together?”
Instead of seeking to find things in common between Buddhism and Islam, we spent the evening learning about each other’s beliefs. It mattered little that Buddhists do not believe in God or Allah. However, we did realize that Buddhism and Islam did share one thing: The American public’s view of them as strange and alien and therefore suspect.
Understanding how dangerous it is for a community to be isolated and realizing our own ignorance of Islam, the Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress (NCRR) initiated exchanges with the Muslim community and organized annual “Break the Fast” programs after 9/11. We invited speakers from the Muslim community to participate in the Day of Remembrance community programs and worked with the Japanese American Citizens League Pacific Southwest District (JACL PSWD) to bring Japanese American and Muslim youth to Manzanar in a program called “Bridging Communities.”
Since September 11, 2001, groups such as the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Council on American Islamic Relations and the Shura Council of Southern California have made extraordinary efforts to explain the true beliefs of Islam in contrast to the Islam practiced by extremists; yet, they are still called terrorists and blamed for 9/11. They are forced to remind people that 300 Muslims lost their lives in the Twin Towers and that Muslim firefighters and medical personnel were some of the first responders.
The Shura Council of Southern California, an alliance of mosques and Muslim organizations, invited the Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress to their annual Ramadan dinner a couple of weeks ago. At this dinner were representatives from groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Los Angeles Jews for Peace, the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, the US Customs and Border Patrol, the Orange County Sheriffs Department and the Interfaith Committee United for Peace and Justice.
The speakers from different faiths included a rabbi, a minister from the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the Archbishop of the Armenian Church who addressed the theme of “Fasting.” They talked about why fasting is done and how it should lead to more compassion for the hungry, the poor, the destitute and oppressed and ultimately to peace. All of them called for religious freedom and supported the right of Muslim Americans to build their mosques just as any other religion. The Muslim moderators and speakers took great care to explain the prayers and each part of the evening which started with the “call to prayer” and then the “iftar” or breaking of the fast with dates and water. It was clear that they wanted all of us to leave with a better understanding of Islam.
Though surrounded by intolerance and daily attacks, Muslims have responded with calm and hope. They continue to reach out to the American public to share their views as moderate Muslims. The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) is urging all its members to make September 11, the last day of Ramadan, a day of service. The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has issued Public Service Announcements videos featuring Muslim 9/11 first responders. The Shura Council is sponsoring an Open Mosque Day on Saturday, Oct. 17.
Japanese American high school students are encouraged to participate in the Bridging Communities program which brings Japanese American and Muslim youth together to learn about each other’s history, culture, religions and community. Applications will be available from the JACL/PSW office or from the NCRR website.
NCRR encourages all of you to visit a mosque, reach out to the Muslim community and to continue to create bridges between our community and the Muslim community. In 2001, we made a decision to begin a meaningful and respectful dialogue with the Muslim community. Although we know more about Islam than we did, there is still much to learn. The Muslim community as well has become a regular presence at the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage bringing busloads of people for the past three years.
Their leaders have consistently expressed how special the relationship between our communities is and have told us that Japanese Americans were the first to call and extend a hand to them after 9/11. Our community too remembers the individual acts of kindness of neighbors who stored belongings and of the Quakers/American Friends Service Committee who openly supported the community during World War II.
Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress
NCRR September 11 Committee
Members of the Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress NCRR Sept. 11 Committee who contributed to this article are June Hibino, Kathy Masaoka, Mark Masaoka, Kay Ochi, Jan Tokumaru, Mike Yanagita, Janice Yen and Evelyn Yoshimura. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.