A Letter from Seattle: Here's to Peace Parties!
By Altaf Bhimji, 15 September 2001
Like any other place, America has its share of bigots and ignorant people. For the past few days in the Seattle area, there have been threats and in some cases, acts of violence perpetrated against Muslims, and toward people of Middle-Eastern descent (or those wrongly perceived to be). Some people have been phoning in threats to local mosques, and even beating people. Today at the mosque in my neighborhood, a man has been arrested for attempting arson and shooting the windows out of a car in the mosque's parking lot.

But these terrible acts do not tell the whole story. I want to share with you all what I have personally witnessed tonight. As I write this, the mosque in my neighborhood is surrounded by non-Muslims who have come out in a public show of support for their Muslim neighbors who have been experiencing harassment and fear since the terrible events on September 11.

Earlier today, my partner and I laid flowers and a message of encouragement on the steps of the mosque. It was heart-warming on this day of mourning to see that many other people had also left flowers and cards. Later in the evening, as millions of people throughout the US and the world lit candles, we participated in a candlelight vigil at the mosque, which spontaneously sprang up, and eventually drew a crowd of at least a hundred people. There are now so many flowers at the front door of this mosque, that it rivals a huge florist shop! You can barely walk into it without stepping on bouquets. And the steps leading up to the door of the mosque are lined with candles lighting up the night sky. It is an unbelievable scene.

As I stood there tonight, candle wax dripping all over my hands and shoes, I witnessed so many miracles....people meeting their Muslim neighbors for the first time, most of whom had never set foot in a mosque before. Many people were initially a little nervous to talk to people who seemed different from them. But the outpouring of good will melted away any divisions. There were people from all walks of life...Christians, Muslims, Jews, and people who do not profess to believe anything (yet something propelled them to be there!). There were two young Mormon missionaries who seemed petrified at first, like they had walked into the scene unintentionally, but who soon held candles in the air like the rest of us. Older people who could have been protesters in the Sixties standing shoulder to shoulder with young Muslim men from Pakistan. Gay people holding candles with an elderly woman wearing a huge cross around her neck. Many people holding signs of support, proudly waving to ! ! the hundreds of people in cars that honked and waved as they passed by, many stopping or slowing down to say thank you for being there. There were women wearing head scarves sharing Starbucks drinks (this is Seattle afterall) and laughter with non-Muslim women. There were people of every race and many ethnicities standing next to each other in solidarity. And perhaps the most beautiful sight of all...*happy* children from every type of family imaginable running through the crowd playing together. One precious little Muslim girl who was no more than four years old told me that we were all there to have a party....yes, a "Peace Party" one woman said to me. The Imam who gave an unplanned and eloquent sermon on the steps reminded us that the root meaning of the word "Islam" is "Peace."

Words cannot begin to describe the feeling there tonight. So much amazing love between strangers. Words cannot describe the look of gratitude and awe, especially in the Muslim womens' eyes....women who had earlier decided not to leave their homes because of the fear their traditional Islamic dress would make them targets. Now they were calling each other at home saying, "hey Sister, you've got to come down here to see this...this is unbelievable!"

this was an unplanned, spontaneous act of support and solidarity. I heard from one woman who prays there that the non-Muslim neighbors have started a volunteer list to watch over the mosque throughout the night so that there will be no more acts of violence toward this house of worship, or its members.

I had been feeling so devastated these past few days, though thankfully, to my knowledge I do not personally know anyone who has died or is missing in New York or Washington DC. Like everyone, I have been struggling for answers why the terrible events on Tuesday occurred. My rational mind can find so many reasons, but my heart cannot begin to understand. Though I will never be able to fathom how human beings can do such horrific things to other humans, I do know that the thousands of deaths that occurred on Tuesday have brought about a consequence the perpetrators of violence never intended...people are talking to each other, and people are taking care of each other. Once you truly look into the eyes and heart of a stranger, they will never be a stranger to you again. You cannot go backward into a state of uncaring, bigotry, or ignorance. At the same time, I am not naive. I know that people will eventually slip back into their comfortable distances. But seeds have been pla! ! nted, and beautiful flowers will grow if we nurture them.

Here's to Peace Parties!....May we all receive an invitation to attend. And may God protect and bless us All.

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