Wayland Islamic center offers message of peace after receiving hateful letter
WAYLAND — A letter spouting anti-Muslim hate delivered earlier this month to the Islamic Center of Boston was countered with messages of peace Sunday morning as hundreds gathered outside the center waving signs and singing songs to show solidarity with a religion that many in the crowd don’t practice but wanted to defend.
The anonymous letter, which Islamic Center officials reported to police on Dec. 1, called Muslims “vile and filthy people” who face a “day of reckoning . . . there’s a new sheriff in town — President Donald Trump.’’
On Sunday, after the crowd sang “This Land is Your Land” and “God Bless America,” Faisal Khan, director of religious affairs for the Islamic Center, addressed them. He doubled down on the center’s commitment to diversity and interfaith relations, saying, “Our doors are open to all” — even, and especially, the letter’s author.
Wayland Police Chief Robert Irving also addressed the letter’s author in his speech.
“You may never be caught,” he said. “No one but yourself may ever know of your actions, because you carefully cower behind a cloak of anonymity.”
But, he said, the community is not cowering.
“You make us all stronger. You make us more united. You make us better friends and better neighbors,” said Irving as the crowd erupted in cheers.
The attendees ranged from toddlers sitting on their parents’ shoulders to teenagers to the elderly, many waving colorful signs that read “DEFEND RELIGIOUS FREEDOM” and “WE STAND TOGETHER AGAINST HATE” as cars drove by, drivers honking in support.
Sara Levine of Lincoln hugged her friend, Daniel Sheff of Lexington, as they listened to the speakers. The two are part of a small Jewish community in Lexington and are here, said Sheff, because of hineni.
“It’s a [Hebrew] term that means, ‘Here I am, I’m showing up,’ ” said Sheff. “It has to do with our humanity, and transcends differences across perceived separations... It really welcomes all beings.”
Nearby, Eliot Prisby held a sign with a quote by Mr. Rogers that read “Love + trust, in the space between what’s said + what’s heard can make all the difference in the world.”
He too was there, he said, because of the value of showing up.
“Especially since the election, I just felt like it’s a lot more important to show active support for people in your community, especially people who are being targeted with the kind of letter that these guys got,” said Prisby, 31, a small-business owner from Maynard. “I think that just sitting at your computer and ‘liking’ stuff on Facebook isn’t enough anymore.”
The anonymous letter to the Islamic Center said the president-elect will “do to you . . . what Hitler did to the Jews.”
Rabbi Douglas Kohn of Temple Shir Tikva in Wayland offered closing words, reading a famous poem by pastor Martin Niemöller . The poem’s narrator doesn’t speak up when Nazis come for the socialists, the trade unionists, and the Jews, because he is not one of them.
“Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me,” said Kohn, reading the poem’s final line.
“We can change the subjects, we can change the nouns, we can change the categories and the message remains compellingly the same,” said Kohn. “... Today, we’ve come because we’re going to change the ending.”