Naperville, IL: A strong contingent of religious leaders and elected representatives from Naperville and DuPage County along with over 250 community members, representing a diverse set of religious denominations, got together to express solidarity with the Sikh community and the recent hate crime victim, Inderjit Singh Mukker, a Sikh American. The interfaith event, “United We Stand”, hosted by the Naperville Interfaith Leaders Association (NILA), along with the Islamic Center of Naperville (ICN) was held on Sunday, September 20 th, 2015 at the ICN facility in Naperville, Illinois.
A large number of eminent speakers, including Congressman Bill Foster, State Representative Linda Chapa LaVia and DuPage County Board Member Tony Michelassi were among those who came together to deliberate on the contemporary challenges of hate crime and the ways and means to combat violence based on an individual’s race and ethnicity.
Love Wins; Hate Loses – Congressman Bill Foster, 11th Congressional District, said that the government has been seriously engaged in the effective implementation of a zero-tolerance policy towards hate crimes.
“The US has always been proud of diversity and, in this backdrop, the struggle against all forms of hate against any segment of society must be the great cause of our generations, and all generations”, he opined. “By rallying around Mukker and the Sikh community, we are sending a strong message that the force of hate is tiny when compared to the force of love in our country”, he stated.He congratulated the Sikh community for using this tragedy as an opportunity to spread the message of love and acceptance and to set an inspiring example to be emulated by others.
Linda Chapa LaVia, State Representative – 83rd Representative District, also underscored the need to demonstrate love and tolerance for all humanity and to believe in one core ethnicity – mankind. Ms. Lavia also referred to the role of media and its responsibility to better handle sensitive topics and those with religious and racial undertones.
“We Are All Americans – No American Should Become a Hate Victim” Mukker’s son, Kanwar Singh, expressed gratitude for the broad based community support extended to his father. “The United States is our country. We are Americans – and no American should become a victim of hate because of his religion, color, race, ethnicity, and sex”, he added.
Rev. Dr. Lynn Pries, President, NILA stressed the importance of empathy and learning to coexist without changing anyone’s religious commitments. He urged people to develop an objective understanding of differences and commonalities among different religions. “We must learn to celebrate our commonalities and respect our differences and thereby further enrich the core of the civilized culture of the US”, added Rev. Dr. Lynn Pries.
Tisleen Kaur Singh, a first-generation American from the National Sikh Campaign said that absence of an open dialog among practitioners of different religions is resulting in the lack of understanding and tolerance for each other. Tisleen also highlighted the need to ensure that mutual dialogues in our educational institutions, homes, and social media are free of hate and bigotry. “This would enable people to acknowledge differences, promote tolerance, live peacefully, uphold justice, and thereby bring peace and progress to all”, she added.
Aadil Farid, President, ICN, after having welcomed the guests, condemned all acts of violence, wherever they erupt, whatever shape they may take, and whoever they are committed against, including the present one against Mukker. He wholeheartedly applauded the decision of the State Attorney’s office to investigate the attack on Mukker as a hate crime. “The propaganda on TV and movies, built on fear and hate, which is poisoning the minds of youth and tearing apart the fabric of American society, is the root cause of the hate crimes. This menace must be tackled by the government with an iron hand”, said Farid.
“In the end, America, which stands for religious freedom, liberty, and justice for all, will come out in flying colors in its war against the hate crime. We as Americans should come together to create an egalitarian society wherein the country is free of bigotry, hate mongering, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia”, Farid added emphatically.
Sadia Covert, Attorney and Social Activist, put forth staggering statistics from the Dept. of Justice which suggest that approximately 250,000 hate crimes occur each year and that most of them go unreported. She also spoke about the pressing need to reform hate crime laws to lay down clear criteria to prove the motive of crime and to impose increased penalties for those prosecuted for violent hate crimes. Imam Sk Mir Rizwan Ali (Islamic Center of Naperville), Suggested having an alliance of faith leaders/communities to stand together against all forms of violence and hate crimes.
The speakers that represented a wide range of organizations included Amarjith Singh (Illinois Sikh Community Center, Wheaton), Sharan Kaur Singh (Sikh Coalition), Bernie Newman (Congregation Beth Shalom, Naperville), Rev. Greg Skiba (HOPE United Church of Christ), Prasad Garkhedkar (Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, Naperville), Rev. Tom Capo (DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church, Naperville),and Tom Cordaro (St. Margaret Mary Parish, Naperville), Sunil Shah, President FIA. The speakers extensively referred to different religious texts which direct people to support and speak on behalf of those who are marginalized, particularly those facing dark times.
Other community leaders who graced the event included Regina Brent – Precinct 44 Committeewoman, Gladson Varghese – President, GOPIO Chicago, Rasheed Ahmed – Executive Director, Islamic Medical Association of North America and President, US India Policy Institute, Saily Joshi – Board Member, Naperville Indian Community Outreach and Gautam Grover – Board Member, Naperville Indian Community Outreach.
The event began with the Flag Ceremony by the Boy Scouts Troop 99 followed by the Pledge of Allegiance by both the Boy Scouts Troop and Girl Scouts Troop 51062– a pledge that inspired speakers to focus attention on the country’s promise for “justice and liberty for all”.
Zayd Baig read out an inspirational verse from the Holy Qur’an highlighting the importance of standing firmly for justice. Shoaib Khadri, Secretary, ICN was the Master of Ceremony and reminded the audience that “whenever the social fabric of a community gets ripped, it is incumbent on all community leaders to not only mend this tear but to work together to stop the next potential mishap.” Closing remarks were made by the event organizer Shafeek Abooubaker of ICN who thanked all the attendees as well as all volunteers who helped make this solidarity event a grand success.
The Naperville Interfaith Leaders Association (NILA), established in 1999 is an organization of religious leaders from a diversity of religious traditions. The Islamic Center of Naperville (ICN) is a non-profit 501 c(3) organization dedicated to providing religious services, youth programs, charitable donations, education and promoting communal harmony through interfaith activities. ICN upholds the values of Tolerance, Justice, Peace, and Prosperity.