Beyond the Comfort Zone: Passion and Peril at a Pro-Christian Rally

Yesterday, CAIR-Chicago staff and interns participated in a rally alongside the Assyrian community of Chicago to condemn violence against Iraqi Christians. The rally was organized in response to the massacre of dozens of Assyrian Christians in Baghdad on October 31st.

It was a tricky decision for us. We knew that there could be anti-Muslim sentiment at the rally that would put is in a precarious position, but we decided that our disdain for the heinous acts of Al Qaeda far exceeded our concern for personal inconvenience.

We decided that the right thing for us to do was to act on our values and our sincere feelings of camaraderie with our fellow human beings in times of anguish. We wanted to raise our voices as Muslims in support of the Assyrian community and against terrorists who purport to act in the name of our faith.

Al Qaeda does not have reverence for any innocent life, including those of Muslims. It is a fact that they have bombed many more Mosques in Iraq than churches.
While we were weary of the possibility that some people at the rally could lash out at us, Muslims-at-large who condemn terrorism, we were not interested in seeing ourselves as victims. The only victims we were prepared to recognize were the 52 innocent souls that were claimed by the recent church bombing, and the many others – Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and otherwise – claimed by terrorism.

And so we set out with signs including “An Attack on Your Church is an Attack on my Mosque,” “American Muslims, Iraqi Christians, One Blood,” “My Brother is an Assyrian,” “We Stand with Iraqi Christians,” and “Muslims for Peace.”

We held our signs up high and marched in solidarity with the predominantly Assyrian Christian crowd.

The reaction we got was mixed.

In an interesting scene that summed up my experience, I was asked by one man if I was a Muslim. I said “Yes, I am.” He then asked, “Am I impure?”

I joked, “I don’t know did you shower this morning?”

He dismissed the joke and asked me if I thought “his blood was impure.” I told him, “why would you expect that, you’ve never met me, I am here supporting you, what about me leads you to ask me such a question?” He told me, “You said you are a Muslim.” I told him, “so what?” He said that Muslims believe this sort of thing. I told him that he had been grossly misinformed, “you’re blood like all innocent blood is holy to me.”

Another man interjected and started yelling that I was “unwanted” there, motioning with his arms for me to leave. As he continued to yell at me, my attention was drawn to something that touched me. A young woman a few yards away leaned down on a stroller she was pushing and started to sob uncontrollably.

At first, I thought it had nothing to do with us but my intuition told me otherwise. I asked here, “what’s wrong, why are you crying?”

She said unable to hold back her tears, “I am so sorry you and your friends have to deal with idiots like that, this man does not represent us, I am so embarrassed. This is so wrong.”

Here I was standing before a stark display of contrasts, extreme animosity on one end and extreme compassion on the other.

In a single powerful moment, I was reminded yet again at the absurdity of those who generalize about any one group of people. Here were two people of the same religion, color, and ethnic background standing side by side rallying for the same cause — and yet they could not be any more different.

I hugged her and tried to comfort her, “Trust me, I know, we have our share of idiots too, everyone has them, most people here have been kind.”

And it was true. Many in the crowd were genuinely happy – almost relieved – to see Muslims standing with them at this rally. Some smiled, some nodded, others simply said “thank you!” It reinforced my feeling that our participation was extremely important.

While there were other incidents – one lady held a cross up to my face and told me I was a “bad Muslim” for condemning terrorism which is “in my Quran”, two people told us that we are going to hell for not accepting Jesus as our Saviour, some guy yelled profanities and was held back by a girl half his size, another called for reciprocal violence – in every single instance, someone else would take a strong stance, telling the others to back off and apologizing.

As we made our way back to the office, we were chased by two girls. “Can I ask you a question?” one of them said. “Can I just give each of you guys a hug?”

We met back in the office for an evaluation.

I learned that my colleagues’ experience mostly mirrored mine.

Despite the bigotry of some, we all felt strong solidarity with most people. We felt as if the Assyrian community, with its good and bad, was our own.

It is of no surprise to any of us that there are some negative feelings among some Arab and Assyrian Christian communities regarding Islam and Muslims. Part of it is understandable to us, given the ugly acts by saboteurs claiming to act in the name of Islam. Part of it is due to the opportunistic work of preachers like father Zakaria Boutros who make a living out of telling Arabic-speaking Christians that Islam is an evil religion. Part of it still is due to the lack of dialogue and engagement between our faith communities, and that was the part we resolved to try to change.

Assyrians have a long and proud history that goes back to one of the earliest civilizations in the world. They live as a religious minority in their indigenous homeland. For centuries, they have coexisted peacefully with their Muslim neighbors. But at other times, especially now, the instability and violence is leaving them feeling frightened for their loved ones and overall vulnerable. Some of them blame Al Qaeda, others demonize all Muslims, and others still blame the United States and its wars.

One thing we must never allow is for the bad amongst us – terrorists, extremists, ideologues of exclusion and hate – to succeed in turning the rest of us against each other. We must condemn them, ostracize them, and disempower them. The way to do that is to strengthen our relations, and stand with one another. That is the only way to spell defeat for the agents of hate.

We must emerge from our comfort zones and stand together as one against all forms of violence, ignorance, and intolerance.

When Christians are attacked, they should NOT have to rally alone. We must rally along with them. When Jews are attacked, they should NOT have to rally alone. When Muslims are attacked, we should NOT have to rally alone.

Update: The Assyrian National Leadership Responds

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26 Responses to Beyond the Comfort Zone: Passion and Peril at a Pro-Christian Rally

  1. Thank you for your post. Thanks for your acts of civic spirit and show of support for people of all faiths.

  2. Johann P says:

    Ahmed this is courageous action and a profound message. Thank you and your colleagues for going out of your comfort zone.

  3. Rita says:

    Thank you all so much. I am sorry for any bigotry you may have experienced. I also got into an argument with an ignorant and stubborn man who was speaking bad on Muslims. When I heard what he was saying, even though I am Christian, I felt very offended. I thought, how could someone say such a thing, it hurt my heart to hear the things he was saying. To me, an attack on Muslims is an attack on me also. I got in an argument with him and he ended up leaving. Please realize that there will always be a few idiots among us. The majority of us were very happy to see you there. It shows that we are in this together. It shows that there is good and bad in every people in every religion and every faith. These people are just overemotional and ignorant. There were verbal arguments between Assyrian Christians and Arab Christians as well. These are just ignorant people. Please thank every one of our Muslim brothers and sisters who came to support us. We cannot forget we are one people, for so long we have lived in peace with each other before the US invasion. We cannot let people like al Qaeda or the Americans win. All they want to do is divide the Muslim and Christian peoples, we cannot let them succeed. I hope to be at more rallys with our Muslim brothers and sisters and please let us know anytime so we can come and support you also. God bless all of you and thank you again.

  4. iraqi christian says:

    i am glad to see the moslem brothers at the rally to support iraqi christians,please forgive those who are idiot brainwashed, they do not represent christian people. they are only looking to make a fight, this happens when you put one thousand assyrian in one place. but all of my friends and me were very happy you were there. and we saw your signs and if it was you also who has the flag with the cross and crescent moon on it it was very beautiful and we loved to see this. i am from baghdad and when i lived there we never put a difference from moslem and christian,i went to the school with them and always my mom she would call the moslem neighbors for dinner with us. there was not a difference before the american and the jewish went and took out saddam from power. they want to make the road map to destroy iraq and they want to destroy the rest of middle east to. this is why and the reason why we must have a rally like this more because look what the american are doing for the oil and they say so called democracy and look what they did to iraq. they are now doing like the british to divide the people and make the christian and sunni and shia fighting each other, the jewish did this in lebanon to. it is good for us to show them that they will not be able to divide us…thank you all X10000 you are very good people

    • Arsailman says:

      I see you are a typical “blame the Jews” person. The Jews, as the original poster said, have all the same desires for peace and brotherhood as anyone else. It is because of people like you, who blame a religion for the few troublemakers, that peace is so unattainable…

      • iraqi christian says:

        who made USA to go to war against iraq? israel did… who made lebanon to go into war? israel did…wake up brother. not all jews are bad, i didnt say that. but i said that these certain things were caused both from jewish and american. i will blame american christian too, you are happy now?

      • Jamil says:

        He didn’t just blame the Jews as you are saying. He blamed the forces in that region (American and Jewish, more accurately Israeli) that are funding and actively supporting the destabilization of the region. If you think Israel and The USA aren’t actively engaged in this, you are sadly mistaken.

  5. Dave Michael says:

    As a U.S. citizen who was raised in a “Christian” home I am saddened by the xenophobia I see in my country and even among my friends and neighbors. We need more people from all sides of the issues to seek common ground as you have.

    When I hear people arguing against the construction of the Islamic center in New York I often counter with a question. “If we ban mosques near the site of the 9/11 attack, then shouldn’t we also ban Christian churches near the center of Oklahoma City? After all the killings that occurred when the Murrah Building was blown up was done by a Christian extremist terrorist who was a U.S. citizen and a former member of the U.S. military.”

    As you say, we all have our idiots. We should be opposed to idiocy, not the religious or ethnic groups the idiots claim to be a part of.

    Peace and Love Brothers ad Sisters. I support you.

  6. Asad123 says:

    In that heated, emotional moment when I am standing alongside people torn totally apart by sadness and grief, I feel I am truer to my Islam than any terrorist could ever be.

    • Shamirum says:

      Throughout all of this, from what I have read and heard about the recent acts that have terrorized my Assyrian community in our homeland, your statement is one of the most profound. Thank you for sharing this sentiment with us. I appreciate that and your support.

  7. Stephen Smith says:

    Thank you, Ahmed. Thoughtful, honest, courageous. As usual. Proud to work with you. See you tomorrow…

  8. Dustin says:

    I am happy to see you standing with our Assyrian Christian brothers and sisters. As a Christian follower of Jesus I wish I had been there to say thank you and to march alongside of you.

  9. Jack Cope says:

    Wonderful! More like this please! In fact, I feel like doing my own :-)

  10. Wael Ben says:

    This is absolutely the core of Islamic teachings. I feel really sorry for those who do not understand their religion right, but the Quran says that there will be a time of great deviance and misunderstanding lead by ignorance. Some of us from all faiths and religions think that we are the right ones, simply because our parents or our society and friends told us so, but we all have to strive to learn more. The Jewish community are still in conflict with their struggle paradigm with god, but many of those who know do realize that the biggest struggle is to be educating ourselves and learn to respect each other. Even the struggle within the Muslim community is very deviance, yet the first word in the Quran is to read and seek knowledge. It sounds very simple, but the Quran as well teaches Muslims not to buy the knowledge of entertainment that could undermine real people with real stands. I hope Muslims try to understand that “Lahw Al Hadith” could be any information that is not referenced. don’t bring it down to music and stay away from the real “Lahw Al Hadith”. We “the human race” should be more opened to each-other, respect each other and prosper. We should buy knowledge, not rumors.
    Respect to all my brothers and sisters from all religions, cultures and countries. and I hope we could utilize such events to know more about each other.

  11. Assyrian from Australia says:

    Wow!

    That was wonderful.

  12. Pingback: A Voice of Reason: Assyrian Leaders Respond | MindfulOfDreams.com

  13. Assyrian Royalty says:

    Thank you for coming out and supporting our cause. We know our story, we know the horrors our Assyrian people have been facing for hundreds of years. We want others to react, to care, to feel, to know, and you and your friends did exactly that. You walked among us. I was very delighted to see Muslims at the rally. I hope to continue to see more moderate Muslims speak out against what is happening in Iraq. Often times we see Christians here in the States and abroad supporting our fellow Muslim brothers and sisters, but it’s is rare to see Muslims in the Middle East defending Christians and Christian Rights in places like Iraq. The world needs to wake up. The world needs to react. It starts slowly, and the Muslim presence at the “Black March” was a beginning. Thank you for walking with us, as fellow humans. God bless.

  14. Maija says:

    This Reform Jew says thank you for speaking up against religion-based violence and bigotry. I admire your grace and courage. May we all be able to practice our respective faiths in peace.

  15. Pingback: Muslims Rally for Christians in Chicago « my treasure

  16. Ali Azizi says:

    Well done Ahmed. It’s too bad that someone like Robert Spencer will be too cowardly post about this from his cave in Bedford, New Hampshire.

    • kinzi says:

      Ali, I found Ahmad’s post there :) . I’ve learned you have to read every side of the story to form the fullest narrative, even if you have to hold your nose.
      Eid Mubarak!

  17. Pingback: A Voice of Reason: Assyrian Leaders Respond | Ahmed Rehab

  18. Pingback: A Voice of Reason: Assyrian Leaders Respond | Ahmed Rehab

  19. Pingback: CAIR-Chicago Rallies Against Massacre of Assyrian Church in Iraq | CAIR-Chicago

  20. Christopher says:

    I am half Copt , half European ( I’d mention the nationality but the country is busy splitting hint hint hehe), and to be honest , i sometimes give in to emotional and temperamental bigotry. Reading your post , I realized that for me, personally , your actions and those of your fellow Muslims are a soothing balm to that. Seeing Muslims protest at the bombing of a church , with a sign of “Your mosque , my church” , is heart warming . That is exactly what I want to hear , support from Muslims , not a total apathy to the bombing of a minority’s place of worship. Thank you for that , your actions should hold me up to do the same if ever it would happen in Europe. More people like you would help fight the negative image that people have of the Islamic world. and comfort the minorities living there.
    Thank you

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