BY: ARMAND BUTERA & ADMIR DURAKOVIC
The FDU community is still grappling with the events of Saturday, Oct. 27, in Pittsburg, where a gunman entered the Tree of Life synagogue armed with an AR-15 rifle and three handguns, murdering 11 people and shot and injured another six police officers. In the aftermath of that event, the editors of The Equinox met with three spiritual leaders who teach at the Metropolitan campus.
Rabbi Ezra Weinberg, Father Jack Baron, and Shaykh Ibrahim Abdul-Malik teach the “One G-d, Three Paths” class on Tuesday nights at FDU. The class encourages students to be accepting of others’ beliefs and support the community, they told The Equinox in a half-hour question-and-answer session.
The impromptu gathering came at the time when the nation was grappling to make sense of yet another mass murder of innocents. At FDU, the flags on University Circle were lowered to half-staff and the campus ministry organized a “special time of prayer” in the Interfaith Chapel at noon on Thursday, Nov. 1 (after deadline for this edition).
Weinberg, Abdul-Malik, and Baron told The Equinox that they encourage their students to speak freely about their beliefs because they believe everyone in the FDU community is accepting of one another.
Baron believes that FDU “can be that hot house” that encourages an open dialogue about the difference of opinions students have spiritually and politically.
“We ask our students to disagree without being disagreeable, and to refrain from making ad hominem attacks without attacking their character,” Weinberg said. “Defend and argue your position without attacking another person’s being. It’s such an important 21st century social skill that is really the heart of our work here and the heart of what keeps me going. I’m afraid that it seems wherever you go right now, hate has the home-field advantage. But I think it’s always felt that way throughout history and that love always finds a way as the underdog to hang around just enough. We’re at a place right now where we need a lot more love to make a big comeback.”
As concerned as Weinberg, Abdul-Malik, and Baron are about the safety of certain religious groups and the American people in general, they continue to search for the truth in their beliefs.
“It simply emphasizes to me that there is no way I can move away from continuing to do what I do,” Abdul-Malik, a Muslim imam, said. “I should long have since been quote retired, but it is my sense of commitment to helping young people to understand in ways that perhaps they are not as likely to given what they are constantly bombarded with on television and all that. When I hear something like this, it sickened me. Literally, I got sick. But I must continue and that is why I am here.”
After the attack, Weinberg said he received emails from his two colleagues, checking in on him.
“That’s a huge source of comfort to me to know that I have a priest and an imam who want to support me and let me know that I’m not alone, not alone with my people. I had a real rock,” Weinberg said.
Given the current political climate, some Americans believe these acts of violence were encouraged by the rhetoric of President Trump. Father Baron said he is concerned with the tone Trump has used.
“Personally I’m afraid of…the leadership in our country at this time, permission is being given to be violent. I know it’s a very political statement but I’m afraid of that,” Baron said.
Weinberg likens Trump’s choice of words to a metaphor he once heard.
“He’s not directly responsible, but he’s spiking the punch that led to the drunk driving accident. Ultimately it’s the driver’s responsibility, but they didn’t know what they were drinking,” Weinberg said.
Despite their concerns, the three men are undeterred in delivering the message of acceptance to their students. They also condemn popular beliefs that the only source of terrorism comes from a minority group, such as Muslims.
“The segment of our country — if this was a Muslim attacker — they would have called this a terrorist and wanted to weed them out. Nobody is using that language right now. ‘It’s a lone crazy wolf.’ This always happens, when they’re not Muslim they’re a lone actor. But when they’re Muslim, they are part of the large network of terrorists that want to destroy us. It’s such blatant racism,” Weinberg said.
Abdul-Malik echoed his colleagues’ statements.
“The only time there is terrorism is when it involves or you think it involves a Muslim. Timothy Mcveigh, his acts in Oklahoma City, that wasn’t terrorism?” Abdul-Malik said. “The point I wanted to add is this: When the leader of the free world stands up and says, and I’m paraphrasing, ‘It was cool what that guy did who body slammed that journalist,’ or who stands up and says ‘there’s a word people don’t want to use, but I’m using it today, “I am a nationalist,” ‘ well tell me, it’s like Pope Urban II who sent all those Europeans to Jerusalem, because, of course, the Muslims were creating all kinds havoc. Listen to his words, you tell me that doesn’t matter? That Pope Urban doesn’t have a responsibility for what happened in the crusades. So yes he didn’t pull the trigger, that’s true, but when you are the leader and this is your language, what permission are you giving?”
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