It Will Take an Interfaith Village to Stand Up for Civil Rights

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Bryn Mawr protest

South Asian American students at Bryn Mawr College participate in a demonstration against racism on September 19. Credit: The Bi-College News (http://www.biconews.com)


People from all walks of life seem to agree that news over the past few months has been downright depressing. Whether it’s conflict overseas or the infernos of injustice here in the United States, there is still so much that stands in the way of achieving what we know can be the best of humanity: love for all beings, respect for the earth, and a promotion of peace. Over the past few months, we’ve been reminded of the many struggles we continue to face in promoting equality, justice, pluralism, and mutual respect.
Within the South Asian American community, we have faced many trials together. From the early immigrants from India in the nineteenth century (the majority of whom were Sikh) who faced constant and institutionalized discrimination and racial violence, to the South Asians who arrived in the United States right after the repeal of the Asian Exclusion Act (only to find cities on fire and racial antagonism), our community has endured collective trauma. But we have also made collective progress.
Today, the South Asian American community, which represents a kaleidoscope of cultures and religions, has a unique opportunity to stand together – and with others – to fight for equality in schools and the workplace while combating bullying and harassment. We’re aware that the diversity of faith traditions – including Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Jains, Christians, Buddhists, and Zoroastrians – that sometimes complicates our efforts to be a united voice, but this diversity can also help us put together a coalition that stands up against injustice.
For example, just last week, Loudoun County, Virginia officials acknowledged at least seventeen anti-Hindu vandalism incidents since July. While Hindu community members and the Hindu American Foundation have worked with local law enforcement, an interfaith condemnation of such hate can give us a stronger voice in advocating for equality. Similarly, incidents targeting Sikh Americans and Muslim Americans must be condemned by all of us because we all have felt this type of hate collectively, as the Bellingham Riots of 1907, the Bhagat Singh Thind Supreme Court case of 1923, and post-9/11 xenophobia demonstrate.
Moreover, it’s inherent in our scriptures to be more engaged in fighting for social justice and promoting amity among our community. In Islam, for example, the Quran (41:34) notes that

“The good deed and the evil deed are not alike. Repel the evil deed with one which is better, then lo! he, between whom and thee there was enmity (will become) as though he was a [close] friend.”

In Sikhism, the vision of shared humanity is noted in the Adi Granth (Sri Raga):

“Now is the gracious Lord’s ordinance promulgated, no one shall cause another pain or injury; all mankind shall live in peace together.”

And though Hinduism has many scriptures dealing with harmony and peace, the Atharva Veda encapsulates the spirit of community:

“May we agree in mind and thought, may we not struggle with one another, in a spirit displeasing to the gods!”

The three of us (who proudly identify as Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh, respectively) have begun an effort to get more young South Asian Americans, regardless of their beliefs, to stand up to bullying. We believe it’s necessary to have sustaining coalitions of South Asian Americans who proudly identify with their faith traditions. It also helps the greater cause for social justice, embodied by the idea of tikkun olam, that isn’t just one led by Christians, Jews, and Humanists, but one in which the expanse of faiths can be equal partners. As we begin to move the discussion into action, we hope more people within our community – particularly those raised here in the United States – put aside their differences, join hands and take the lead in combating intolerance. In the spirit of what our great faith traditions idealize, let us work together to make sure we can be a part of positive, pluralistic change.