At this writing, four days after the Boston Marathon attack, amid a hunt for the criminal responsible for the bombing which has killed five (including two today) and injured over 100, events are pointing to a suspect who calls himself Muslim.
Although you have done nothing wrong, in an Islamophobic environment where 59% of our neighbors hold a negative opinion of Islam and Muslims, Islamophobes will be enjoying their non-stop commentary to continue to blame Muslims. On Monday, just hours after the attack, and before law enforcement released any information about who could have committed the crime, one of them, Erik Rush of FOX news, was already tweeting, "kill all Muslims."
In light of this reality, here are some urgent things you can do to protect yourself, your family, your Masjid or Islamic Center, and remain strong during this difficult time.
1. Stay safe
All Muslim individuals, families, Masjids, and organizations must enhance security by double check that security cameras and systems are functioning. Also, save recorded videos instead of recording on them.
2. Get your spokespersons ready
Because of the alleged “Muslim connection” the media will no doubt be showing up at the doors of Masjids, Islamic centers, and organizations. Please be ready for this. When making a statement, you can use talking points from this press release LINK to address points.
If possible, choose a Muslim woman to be the main spokesperson on behalf of the community or organization. The main message s/he must give is that the center and all Muslims categorically condemn the terrorism. Do not dwell on any possible causes, reasons etc. If you are being pressured to do so, remain silent. The media is notorious for taking our words out of context to fit their needs.
Also mention that there were many Muslim runners participating who were injured and there were Muslim first responders, as well surgeons saving lives. (we have a list if your media wants to interview them).
3. Hold a press conference
Reiterate these above-mentioned points in a press conference to deliver a short prepared statement LINK
4. Make sure today’s and next week's Khutba talks about this
Whatever Khutba your Imam or Khateeb was about to deliver today, postpone it to focus on the Boston tragedy. The main points to emphasize in the sermon are:
- a message of sympathy with victims and neighbors
- outrage and clear condemnation of what has happened
- reassure the community that it is not their fault; they should not own the crimes of the few
- ask them to be cautious and thoughtful while moving about
5. Putting faith in action in the coming days
People of faith are connected with God in worship and humanity in service. In many cases, they respond to human concerns and disasters faster than the government.
Now that the suspects have been found, while they go through a legal process, we need to start a human process which began when one of the victims, Martin Richard, age eight, made a poster a few weeks before his death that said, "No More hurting People. Peace". President Obama repeated that phrase twice in his interfaith service speech.
But these feelings, whether connected with the school shooting or Boston marathon, should not be limited to interfaith service. They should become a part of a thoughtful strategy to counter hate, anger, and fear.
We must remind our neighbors that just as we did not generalize in the wake of the Sand Hook school shooting and the ricin-laced letter sent to President Obama, we must not generalize and politicize the criminal behavior of some Muslims.
Incidents like Sandy Hook and the Boston marathon are reasons to emphasize human connectedness, bridge-building, and avoiding the generalization of criminal behavior to an entire whole community. As hate and fear rise in America, due to changing demographics and other factors, Muslims should organize an interfaith thinking retreat to address how your community can counter this deadly negativity. This should be followed by the development of a well-funded movement to bring Americans of all faiths together to fight hate, violence, and intolerance with the common good that joins us all.