Phoenix, AZ — In the midst of a storm of hate, anger and bigotry, some anti-Islam protesters found understanding, commonality and peace. Their revelations came after being invited into a Phoenix, Arizona mosque by Usama Shami, president of the Islamic center.
The protest outside of a Phoenix mosque made national news, as the organizer of the protest, Jon Ritzheimer, called for protestors to be armed.
Ritzheimer seemed to veil his attack on religious freedom in a cloak of patriotism when he stated, “I would love to see more of these events pop up in other states. I want fellow patriots standing right here next to me. This isn’t about me. Everybody’s been thinking it, I’m just saying it.”
Shami was not shaken by the actions of Ritzhemier.
“This is not new. Hatred, bigotry, racism — that’s old. It’s the same thing,” he said. “No different from Nazis or neo-Nazis. They don’t believe society should be multicultural or multiethnic. They think everyone should believe like them, I guess,” Shami said.
According to a report in The Washington Post:
“Ritzheimer began demonstrating after two Phoenix residents carrying assault rifles were killed by police outside a Muhammed cartoon-drawing contest in suburban Dallas earlier this month. In the days following the shooting, Ritzheimer began making and selling the T-shirts. Nearly two weeks ago, he organized a protest at the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix, where a few dozen others joined him.”
Around 250 anti-Muslim demonstrators showed up for the rally, many protesters donned their profanity-laced clothing denouncing Islam and were heavily armed. A counter demonstration of roughly the same size also took place at the mosque, with a line of police separating the two crowds as insults were hurled, but with violence being avoided.
— Michael Edgecomb (@TheEdgePHX) May 30, 2015
But out of the darkness came some amazing revelations and understanding, as Shami chose to meet the vitriolic hate with compassion, kindness and love.
Shami invited the anti-Muslim protesters into the mosque for evening prayers with his parishioners and what happened next was nothing short of amazing.
Phoenix resident, Jason Leger, one of the protestors clad in a profanity-laced shirt demeaning Islam, accepted his offer. He says what transpired that evening has changed his entire perspective.
“It was something I’ve never seen before. I took my shoes off. I kneeled. I saw a bunch of peaceful people. We all got along,” Leger said. “They made me feel welcome, you know. I just think everybody’s points are getting misconstrued, saying things out of emotion, saying things they don’t believe.”
The awakening of Leger was parroted by fellow protestor Paul Griffin, who prior to accepting the offer to attend evening prayers had stated he didn’t care if his shirt was offensive.
After attending mosque Griffin had changed his viewpoint telling a man,
“I promise, the next time you see me, I won’t be wearing this shirt,” while shaking his hand and smiling. “I won’t wear it again.”
Many of the protestors had never met a Muslim prior the protest, which speaks to the constant media propagandizing and demonization of Islam, used to gain public consent for the never ending ‘War on Terror’, ie the war on your liberties.
As Shami told The Washington Post:
“A lot of them, they’ve never met a Muslim, or they haven’t had interactions with Muslims,” he said. “A lot of them are filled with hate and rage. Maybe they went to websites that charged them with this hatred. So when you sit down and talk like rational people, without all these slogans, without being bigots, without bringing guns, they will find out that they’re talking to another human.”
These examples show the ability to truly change people’s perspectives when they are given the ability to gain some real world knowledge and experience. The humanity shown in this instance is a true testament to the human spirit.
The value of personal connection, of one human reaching out to another, not learning from a television or a book, but from sitting down and meeting someone cannot be underestimated.
Although Shami had no obligation to reach out to these men disrespecting Islam, he chose to extend a hand of peace, changing the hearts and minds of people who earlier in the night were proud to demonize and denounce him.
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Jay Syrmopoulos is an investigative journalist, freethinker, researcher, and ardent opponent of authoritarianism. He is currently a graduate student at University of Denver pursuing a masters in Global Affairs. Jay’s work has previously been published on BenSwann.com and WeAreChange.org. You can follow him on Twitter @sirmetropolis, on Facebook at Sir Metropolis and now on tsu.