It’s been a busy few weeks for the Muslim Coalition of Connecticut. On May 1st, Law Day, MCC was honored by the Connecticut Supreme Court for their role “For educating the public on Islam and Muslims at a time when there has been an increase in hate crimes and discrimination directed toward Muslims.” (Full length video.) So how does MCC combat ignorance and hate?
First, the Muslim Coalition of Connecticut, established in 2004, is an umbrella organization open to all Muslims in the state and focused on unity, support, and education. Members, such as President Aida Mansoor, invite the public to learn about Islam and discuss issues related to it in an open, inviting setting. One such example is the April 23rd book discussion of Eboo Patel’s book Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, in the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation, Patel’s personal journey through religion, at the Hartford Public Library. (New materials are given for each new meeting.) At this gathering of about 20 community members, from all walks of life, Patel’s book helped facilitate a discussion that complicated the image of the stereotypical violent Muslim by emphasizing the importance of context and focusing on identity politics, alienation, discrimination, the effects of war and displacement, and his own search for identity. Patel reminds the readers that radicalization is possible across faiths and other human groups, and that support is best directed at the youth, who are our future. Readers expressed that this book and the ensuing discussion helped not only deconstruct Islamophobic stereotypes, but express that the anger, pain, and suffering of peoples is a human problem that it is the responsibility of all to address. In this way, individuals become a community that combats all forms of violence, including social and psychological, and avoid displacing anger on a single group, creating more violence. In a room where the vast majority of participants were not Muslim, sharing stories and opening room for discussion proved to be a highly effective tool for building meaningful relationships against all forms of hatred.
But not all of MCC’s events and projects have anything to do with educating the public about Islam. For example, every first Saturday of the month MCC volunteers gather at Mercy Shelter in Hartford where they cook and serve food for whomever wishes to partake. There are no pamphlets about Islam on the tables, no questioning of anyone’s religion or lack thereof, and no Muslims sitting at the tables attempting to convert diners. This monthly project, entirely on the dollar of MCC and through the work of their volunteers, is done simply because they can and because as members of the Connecticut community it is their responsibility to help others. MCC members also gathered 320 new bath towels to donate to Mercy Shelter and South Park Inn Shelter for the National Day of Service, then in late April, MCC volunteers participated in Building Faith Week helping Habitat for Humanity build houses in Hartford. This theme was carried on when, on May 5th, MCC volunteers formed the “Muslims Against Hunger” team at the Connecticut Foodshare Walk for Hunger. Displaying their bright green shirts that proudly proclaimed the team name, MCC raised over $4000 to combat hunger for their Connecticut neighbors; not their Muslim neighbors, or Indo-Pakistani, Arab, or South Asian neighbors, not themselves, but the larger community of which they are a part.
On Law Day, the Muslim Coalition of Connecticut was honored with serving the people of Connecticut through their efforts to abolish hate, ignorance, and the violence that stems from them. During Imam Refai Arfin’s keynote address, available here as well as above, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was quoted as having said “Injustice somewhere is injustice everywhere”, suggesting that if we can learn to avoid stereotypes and hate crimes with one people, we should be able to extend those principals to all peoples and fulfill the charge of equality and justice. For those who continually cry that the voices of Muslims who refuse to accept violence and who are part of the larger American ethos are too small to be heard, the Muslim Coalition of Connecticut is countering that stereotype as well, not simply for themselves, but for the good of all.