Our Views: Janesville mosque shows more unites us than divides us
Janesville can proudly say it has rejected the anti-Muslim rhetoric and behavior plaguing parts of the nation.
The community has risen to embrace a new mosque and welcome its worshipers, Muslims who seek to practice their religion alongside people of other faiths.
Much credit goes to the Muslim Dawa Circle's co-founder Salih Erschen, who reached out to surrounding neighborhoods two years ago with information about the mosque and the Muslim faith. He took the proactive step of addressing inevitable questions about his and the worshipers' intentions.
Of course, Erschen shouldn't have needed to explain himself or his faith anymore than Christians should have to explain their reasons for wanting to attend a neighborhood church. But Erschen recognizes these aren't normal times. President Trump and his alt-right followers brought bigotry and xenophobia into the mainstream by playing to people's fears during the presidential campaign. Trump's repeated failures to distinguish between the Muslim faith and terrorism—remember his call for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”—shamed this nation and impaired efforts to build trust among Americans of different faiths.
We cannot ignore his remarks and act like the uptick in violence and bigotry toward Muslims occurred in a vacuum.
It's sad that we in this global age must respond to a United States president's ill-informed rhetoric, that we must make clear that people of all religions have the capacity to live peacefully or violently. There's nothing inherently violent about Islam, though some have twisted the religion to try to justify violence. At times, Christians have done the same thing. Nazi Germany was a Christian nation, but nobody except white supremacists would claim murdering Jews reflects the nature of Christianity.
Blunt, uncomfortable dialogue must counter the simplistic, emotional appeals of racism and xenophobia. We must be willing to join others who practice religions and customs different from our own if we are to break down those barriers that divide communities.
On race relations, Janesville has a mixed record. Its embrace of the Muslim Dawa Circle, along with the worshipers' openness to visitors, is a high point. But not so long ago, Janesville was the site of Ku Klux Klan rallies. Many people, of course, rejected the group's message, but there's a reason the KKK considered Janesville fertile territory. Some people want to blame other races for their and society's problems.
One of the most touching aspects of the Janesville mosque's foundation is a Quaker couple's decision to give to the mosque a prayer rug they had prayed on for 30 years. As Gazette reporter Anna Marie Lux explained in her story Monday, Ken Jacobsen and his late wife, Katharine, of Delavan donated the rug in a display of spiritual unity. To see the rug inside the mosque is a reminder that our faiths have much in common, despite their different names and customs.
As human beings, we seek connections with each other and our God. Only in respecting our differences and celebrating our commonalities will we discover how to achieve lasting, authentic peace. Only through the sort of spiritual awareness practiced by Jacobsen, Erschen and other worshipers can we reject the hate peddled by fear mongers.