Local faith leaders are concerned about a growing fear and mistrust of all Muslims and are taking steps to visibly show support for Muslims who are simply living as neighbors, co-workers, friends and parts of the community, they said.
In a showing of solidarity for the Muslim community, a Franklin-based faith group is encouraging people to post signs of support in their yards.
Shoulder to Shoulder in Interfaith Witness, co-founded by Franklin College professor David Carlson, started the yard sign campaign to respond to the suspicion and hatred of Muslims bubbling throughout society.
“Someone wrote, ‘When you jeopardize the peace and freedom of some, you jeopardize that for everybody,’” Carlson said. “We have something going on in the country now where the worst part of our national soul is on display. Fear, anger, lack of understanding, name-calling, targeting people. This is not the best of our story.”
With a simple black-and-white sign, people can clearly assert that, “We Stand With American Muslims.”
“It’s a gesture of reassurance that good people can rise above the fray and come together on common terms,” said Michael “Mikal” Saahir, the resident imam of the Nur-Allah Islamic Center in Indianapolis.
The yard sign campaign stemmed from Carlson’s work throughout central Indiana, speaking to churches and organizations about his study of the Islamic State group. The primary tool the Islamic State group uses to recruit new terrorists is to point out to young Muslims the hatred that seems to exist around them, he said.
“They count on the fact that after these attacks, Muslims in the West will experience more harassment and even, in some cases, worse than that,” Carlson said. “It fits their propaganda campaign. They put out this idea to Muslims that you will never be welcome in the West.”
He started to hear more and more from audiences wanting to do something to alleviate the helplessness they feel watching the news and seeing these tragedies unfold. In light of what he knew about the Islamic State group, Carlson theorized that the best way to combat the growth of the terrorist group would be to combat its recruiting strategy and make Muslims feel welcome.
Instead of reacting to what the Islamic State group is doing to attract young Muslims, a yard sign campaign could preempt it, Carlson said.
“It’s a chance for us to say that we think we know what you want. You want us to hate our Muslim neighbors, to isolate them. And we’re going to work against it,” he said.
Carlson, a religion and philosophy professor at the college, co-founded Shoulder to Shoulder in Interfaith Witness to bring people from all religions and faiths together to work against evil in the world. He had a batch of small white yard signs printed, proclaiming support for American Muslims. Since the campaign started about two weeks ago, he’s passed out about a dozen signs.
The group also is planning on having rubber wrist bands made so people can show their support as well.
In some cases, people are hesitant to place such a bold statement at their houses, Carlson said. They are tentative about reactions from their neighbors or getting pushback from others in the community.
Carlson’s response has been to emphasize the importance of people standing up for what’s right.
“Totalitarian regimes count on the fear and silence of people,” he said. “The more signs people see, the more people will think it’s OK.”
Indeed, as more people have learned about the campaign, there is a growing backing for the signs. Carlson is meeting with Islamic leaders throughout central Indiana, who are interested in purchasing signs to distribute to non-Muslim friends in their own communities.
Saahir, who has worked with Carlson and others on the campaign, has spoken and written about the negativity directed at Muslims and the Islamic faith, often due to misinformation. He has focused on working in the interfaith community to help others learn more about the religion, to dispel those erroneous ideas.
“We have far more in common than we do different. Once we sit and talk with them, we realize that we’re really like all other people. We want the same thing,” Saahir said.
People can purchase a sign for $15. Of that cost, $2.20 will go toward supporting other efforts by Shoulder for Shoulder in Interfaith Witness. Carlson is handling all of the orders and questions.
He knows that he might get critical reaction from people. But it will be worth it to help ease the fears and unite a community, he said.
“If you’re a Muslim and you’re driving by, you know you’re not alone,” he said. “They can see that they have allies, that someone is doing something for them. That’s what we’re about.”
“We Stand With American Muslims”
What: A yard-sign campaign showing support for the Muslim community.
Who: Spearheaded by Shoulder to Shoulder in Interfaith Witness, a central Indiana-based group that brings people of all faiths together. The group was co-founded by Franklin College professor David Carlson.
How to get a sign: Contact Carlson at firstname.lastname@example.org