Muslims in NYC: Bridging the Divide with Interfaith Dialogue & Shared Service
Muslim Consultative Network (MCN) is requesting $65,000 to support MCN's Inter-/ Intra-Faith Dialogue Program, bridging religious and sectarian divides through dialogue and cooperation; specifically to develop and sustain our 9/11 anniversary commemorations in Greater New York. About Our Organization: MCN works to strengthen and unify the diverse New York City Muslim community through education, collaboration and advocacy. Founded in 2003, MCN was started by a group of New York City based Muslim volunteers responding to the urgent needs of the community after 9/11. As a network of activists, first responders, community leaders and nonprofit professionals, MCN is uniquely positioned to empower and support members across religious, ethnic and class boundaries. Needs Statement: Over 800,000 Muslims live in New York City. Comprising perhaps two thirds of the total, local immigrant families originate from over 80 countries and speak nearly 100 languages. This diverse assortment of cultures, races and histories enriches New York and its faith traditions but also presents challenges. Though Muslim New Yorkers identify strongly with their city, religious, sectarian and ethnic tensions have eroded their sense of belonging, particularly for immigrant families and youth already struggling with anti-immigrant sentiment. Muslim Americans are increasingly finding themselves described in the conservative media and by campaigning politicians in a deeply disparaging and alienating way. Since it is Islam that is being demonized and equated with subversion, faith community affiliation—and not so much ethnic identity—requires support and positive opportunities to engage in civic projects “as Muslim Americans.” This is especially true in New York City where 9/11 has become unhelpfully politicized, most recently evidenced in strong local opposition to proposed mosques in Brooklyn and Staten Island and the national furor surrounding the Muslim community center being developed near Ground Zero in Manhattan. In this context, Muslim American community groups struggle to strengthen and stabilize the community. The Inter-/Intra-Faith Dialogue Program: MCN strengthens communities by building channels of communication, solidarity and cooperation between Muslims and other faith groups. Through dialogue and active listening, celebrating culture and volunteering together, these groups cooperate to promote a peaceful and just society-- this is especially appropriate at events that address the 9/11 anniversary. MCN’s Inter- / Intra-Faith Program has been the backbone of MCN's mission since the organization’s inception at the InterChurch Center. Last year alone, MCN members worked with a range of community and institutional partners at 75 interfaith events. Every year we promote interfaith action and solidarity through public events, such as the Children of Abraham Peace Walk in Brooklyn which MCN members co-founded; in 2010 the Seventh Annual Walk took place in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, with over 300 diverse community members attending to show interfaith support to the proposed mosque under media attack. A spin off independent Queens Unity Walk now takes place in Flushing, Queens and together the two interfaith Walks have organized over 40 visits to synagogues, Buddhist temples, mosques, churches, Sikh gurdwalas and other houses of worship. MCN also co-organizes dinners where Muslims, Jews and Christians learn about each other’s religious and cultural traditions; as well as dinners with elected officials to speak about civic engagement; 3,000 Muslims attend per year. Since spring 2010, MCN has been co-sponsoring the Interfaith Soup Kitchen, a monthly volunteer day at Holy Trinity Church's food pantry in Manhattan aimed at promoting community service and interfaith cooperation. MCN supplies 5-15 volunteers each month as servers and food preparers with a significant level of commitment from young people. This coming year, MCN is mobilizing youth to play an even more active role in service learning. Young people push dialogue to the next level. In June 2011 MCN hosted such an event at the Park51 community center, in part to show support to the beleaguered downtown mosque. We are also helping promote an August 20th interfaith youth discussion around 9/11 issues organized by Turning Point for Women and Families at the same location. Support for 9/11 Interfaith Outreach & Dialogue. Since 9/11 MCN has organized numerous events around the 9/11 Anniversary involving over 100 volunteers in planning and in managing all activities. For example, in 2001 Former Board Chair (and former AmeriCorps Program Director) Adem Carroll initiated an interfaith dinner and discussion event at Union Theological Seminary which has grown steadily each year to involve over 20 planners, servers and speakers with 200 students and community attendees—this year again focused on 9/11 related bridge-building. Adem Carroll has also initiated four 9/11 workshops this year in association with Interfaith Center of New York’s Prepare NY program, New York Disaster Interfaith Services, Alwan Center for the Arts and many other groups; these include a June 22 9/11 Backlash Discussion with noted lawyers (first in a series of three); an August 4th 9/11 Disaster Chaplains Roundtable; and a September 1 downtown clergy discussion to be held at Park51. Involving diverse survivors of the attack, MCN is also planning this year’s community Peace Walk to focus on the 9/11 anniversary together with B'nai Jeshurun Synagogue, Kolot Chayeinu / Voices of Our Lives Synagogue, Brooklyn Heights Unitarian Church and many others. MCN's does not proselytize but works irrespective of religion, ethnicity or gender. We note our grassroots approach, track record in disaster recovery and community building, media contacts and many personal relationships give our network the ability to do what many larger groups cannot do. We expect total volunteer numbers will surpass 100 at the Anniversary events mentioned above. However while we have been able to carry out such activities largely with the help of volunteers and in-kind support, funding is very much needed to sustainably scale up these activities. MCN hopes to hire a volunteer coordinator to liaise with interfaith partners, coordinate events, conduct outreach, recruit volunteers, develop a sustainability plan, organize events, and build partnerships. MCN is also seeking support to cover printing and design costs associated with event promotion, as well costs for space rental and refreshments. Support from the Anniversary Challenge grant will help us to expand these community strengthening activities throughout the boroughs in future years.