MADISON — It’s the one-on-one encounters, when people meet others as individuals, that break down stereotypes and suspicions of others, according to Celene Ibrahim, the Muslim chaplain at Tufts University, who will appear at Mercy by the Sea Retreat and Conference Center in June.
The Islamic holy month of Ramadan began in this country at sundown Sunday, lasting until June 4, and “One Nation, Indivisible,” which she edited and which was published in March, is her contribution to the battle against Islamophobia, which has been on the increase in the past several years.
“It’s a collection of artists and activists and scholars of religion and preachers and poets” who, each in his or her own way, “have been pushing back on Islamophobia,” Ibrahim said. Not all of the contributors are Muslim. Some describe their interactions or work with Muslims. All the essays are about “promoting values like hospitality, welcoming the stranger and the courage to cross identity divides,” she said. All promote “the values of love and care.”
The cover illustration, in which a minaret, topped by the Islamic crescent, extends into the 50-star canton of the American flag, “is very provocative, and I hope people pick it up out of a sense of curiosity,” Ibrahim said. “If people come to it with a good intention, they’ll find stories that resonate with them and that’s the point, to recognize our common humanity and recognize our differences.
“Ramadan is a beautiful moment for that because the emphasis is on hospitality and solidifying communal bonds and generosity,” she said.
With news coverage of Muslim extremists and President Donald Trump’s ban on immigration from several majority Muslim countries: “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” “many people have a very negative exposure to Islam … — an understatement — because they haven’t had exposure to the more positive and potentially familiar aspects of Islam,” she said. At the same time, “there are some organizations whose mission it is to cast fear and doubt on Muslims.”
“The data bears this out. … Islamophobia and Islamophobic acts rise in the leadup and aftermath of elections,” she said.
“The anthology aims to humanize Muslims and help people increase their Islamic literacy in an engaging way. It’s based on storytelling and an appreciation for visual arts and poetry,” she said.
One contributor, photographer Saskia Bory Keeley, a non-Muslim, runs “workshops in the West Bank for Israeli and Palestinian women to work together on photographic projects,” Ibrahim said.
Another is by Nora Zaki, “the first Muslim chaplain her trauma hospital in Florida has seen,” Ibrahim said. A third is by Tahirah Dean, “a Muslim immigration attorney who is representing an asylum case for a Haitian client, and she speaks about how much she learned from his faith,” she said.
Ibrahim said non-Muslims can learn more about the faith during Ramadan by attending a public iftar, the evening meal at which the faithful break the fast they’ve kept each day. “It’s a good opportunity for people who didn’t necessarily fast the day to still celebrate with Muslims in recognition that fasting is a deep spiritual practice,” she said. “It’s a moment of coming together really as families, as communities, as friends.”
Ibrahim will lead a program from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. June 15 at Mercy by the Sea, 167 Neck Road, on “Social Justice and Qur’anic Social Ethics: Contemporary Explorations,” based on her book.
Another program on Islam to be held at Mercy will be a three-day retreat, Oct. 25-27, led by Omid Safi, professor and director of the Islamic Studies Center at Duke University. His topic will be “Radical Love: The Legacy of the Prophetic Traditions” and focus on the Muslim mystical tradition known as Sufism and its most famous poet, Rumi.
Safi will discuss how radical love leads to taking a stand for justice, as embodied in the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Rabbi Abraham J. Herschel and Malcolm X.