Interfaith crowd gathers at mosque to decry incivility and hate
Men, women, and children of many faiths and backgrounds gathered Sunday evening to pray, share personal stories, and pledge to stand together against a wave of incivility, hate speech, and violence that has followed the presidential election.
The crowd, estimated by organizers at 2,600, packed the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in Roxbury to hear the voices of clergy and political leaders — including Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Senator Elizabeth Warren — but also everyday citizens.
Warren, a Democrat, called on those present to stand up for the rights and dignity of all Americans. “We reaffirm the idea that ... every American deserves a fighting chance to build a future for themselves and for their families,” she said.
Warren spoke about her own faith and her belief that there is something holy in each person, but that people must also act on their faith and their values.
“Now is a time when we must be willing to say loud and clear there is no room for bigotry anywhere in the United States of America — none,” Warren said. “An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us, and we will fight back against discrimination whenever and wherever it occurs.”
Speakers called for healing and unity in a country deeply divided — a division many believe was worsened by statements from President-elect Donald Trump, who during the campaign denigrated Mexicans, Muslims, undocumented immigrants, women, and the disabled.
Trump’s victory was celebrated by white nationalists and a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, who have said they now have an opportunity to influence policy. Trump has repudiated the racist groups.
Mayor Walsh endorsed a statement of shared values read by members of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, the event’s organizer, and pledged to stand against bigotry and abuse.
“With you, I’m committed to working across our differences, to heal not just the wounds of this election, but the wounds of our history, and the wounds in our heart that cause this fear and despair,” he said.
Walsh said Boston values diversity.
“This city welcomed my immigrant mother and my immigrant father . . . and that’s exactly how we’re going to stay,” he said.
Walsh said he has visited the Islamic Society of Boston often since becoming mayor and encouraged all elected officials across the country to visit mosques to prepare themselves for conversations about diversity.
Walsh, a Democrat, also picked up Warren’s backing for his re-election. Speaking to reporters after the event, the senator pledged her support, saying, “Marty Walsh has been doing a terrific job, and he gets better at it every day.”
Event organizers invited both Democrats and Republicans to speak.
Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito were unable to attend, but Baker sent a statement of support and pledged to work with the interfaith organization to protect the rights of all Massachusetts residents.
Not everyone present had opposed Trump. Peter Brook, a congregant at the Fourth Presbyterian Church in South Boston, said his parents, immigrants from Holland, had raised him with conservative values that included a strong work ethic and opposition to abortion.
Brook said he voted for Trump and was taken aback at Bible study the night after the election to see members of his congregation weeping and expressing fear for the future.
Because he has no wife or children, he said, his church family is as important to him as a biological family, and their pain was hurtful to him as well.
Yusufi Vali, executive director of the cultural center, said in an interview that the event was intended to address concerns that span faiths.
“All of our congregations have been feeling anxiety and uncertainty in light of what happened in the elections,” he said. “So we felt it was all so critical for all of us, from different backgrounds … coming together, standing together.”
Nahma Nadich, associate director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, said the plan came together in discussions among the interfaith organization that began about a week after the election.
“Because we’ve come to care so deeply about each other, people were concerned about others,” she said. “The Muslims were worried about the Latino immigrants, and the Jews were worried about the Muslims.”
She said the past month has brought a wave of hatred that has no recent precedent.
“In my lifetime, I haven’t seen the expression of anti-Semitism in America like this, ever,” she said.
The Rev. Burns Stanfield, senior minister of the Fourth Presbyterian Church and president of the interfaith organization, said local religious leaders have seen in their congregations a desire “to remind us that our country is greater than the sum of its parts, and to remind us of our motto: Out of many, one.”
“That’s an incredible aspiration that the founding fathers gave us.”