Combating religious intolerance in Chico

Jim Henson, president of Chico Area Interfaith Council, addressed Muslim intolerance in an open letter. Photo courtesy of Jim Henson

Jim Henson, president of Chico Area Interfaith Council, addressed Muslim intolerance in an open letter. Photo courtesy of Jim Henson

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In response to the growing anti-Islamic rhetoric on the national stage, the Chico Area Interfaith Council released a letter in the Chico Enterprise-Record urging community members to extend a hand of friendship to local Muslims.

Members of CAIC wanted to address the growing media maelstrom surrounding Muslim Americans after the recent terrorist attack in San Bernardino. The letter stresses that regardless of religious identity, all people are “members of the human family,” and in this spirit, CAIC offers its support to local Muslims.

“We all have the same wishes for a safe place to raise our kids and to have equality amongst us,” said Jim Henson, president of CAIC. “And we don’t have to fight each other for those needs because we all have them freely in this country.”

In addition to their call for solidarity, CAIC’s letter also clearly stated their opposition to those who committed “hateful acts based in fear.” Furthermore, they cautioned people to resist spreading harmful rhetoric, saying, “We find the growing rhetoric against Muslim Americans all too reminiscent of attacks against other religious minorities in our nation’s past.”

Since Sept. 11, CAIC has been very involved in community outreach. When faced with questions about Islam and terrorism, Henson uses the example of the Ku Klux Klan and Christianity to explain.

“All religions have those who will interpret [religion] in that way, but they are not representatives of the entire faith,” he said. “President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address even pointed out that terrorists are thugs and they really don’t represent the religion itself.”

While the letter makes a clear stance against religious intolerance, CAIC members also expressed an interest in having a gathering or event to further demonstrate interfaith cooperation in Chico.

Chico Islamic Center answered this need and hosted a “Uniting for Peace” dinner to accompany the release of the letter. The dinner drew 150 people and included representatives from Chico Unified School District, Chico City Council and other local businesses and organizations. The Chico Islamic Center also recognized community efforts and awarded donations to local non-profit organizations such as the Jesus Center and Catalyst Domestic Violence Services.

While the success of the peace dinner is encouraging to local interfaith activists, CAIC’s letter has yet to receive much feedback from the rest of the community. But social action is a long haul. It will take some time before the full impact can be known, Henson said.

When asked how he would counsel people to respond to religious intolerance, Henson said antagonizing another for their faith is a sign of bullying.

“We are all affected by bullying, so take a stand and don’t let it happen,” Henson said.

In order for Chico to grow as an interfaith community, people need to understand it’s not a competition.

“The door is not only open to a few because there are many ways of faith,” he said.

Molly Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or @SullivanMollyM on Twitter.

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