“I am absolutely convinced that no amount of wealth in the world can help humanity move forward, even in the hands of the most devoted worker. The example of great and pure individuals is the only thing that can lead us to noble thoughts and deeds. Money only appeals to selfishness and irresistibly invites abuse. Can anyone imagine Moses, Jesus or Ghandi armed with the money-bags of Carnegie?” –Albert Einstein
(By Evan Wyloge) PHOENIX —About 250 mostly armed anti-Muslim demonstrators — many wearing T-shirts bearing a profanity-laced message denouncing Islam — faced-off against a crowd of roughly the same size defending the faith in front of a Phoenix mosque Friday night. Demonstrators yelled and taunted one another across a line of police separating the two sides but violence did not break out.
Can you guess what happened?
Although the event was marked by inflammatory messages and a tangible divide between the two sides, it wasn’t without some reconciliation.
Jason Leger, a Phoenix resident wearing one of the profanity-laced shirts, accepted an invitation to join the evening prayer inside the mosque, and said the experience changed him.
“It was something I’ve never seen before. I took my shoes off. I kneeled. I saw a bunch of peaceful people. We all got along,” Leger said. “They made me feel welcome, you know. I just think everybody’s points are getting misconstrued, saying things out of emotion, saying things they don’t believe.”
Paul Griffin, who had earlier said he didn’t care if his t-shirt was offensive, assured a small crowd of Muslims at the end of the rally that he wouldn’t wear it again.
“I promise, the next time you see me, I won’t be wearing this shirt,” he told one man while shaking his hand and smiling. “I won’t wear it again.”
Usama Shami, the president of the ICCP, invited anyone to join him and the 800 members of the mosque for a prayer.
“A lot of them, they’ve never met a Muslim, or they haven’t had interactions with Muslims,” he said. “A lot of them are filled with hate and rage. Maybe they went to websites that charged them with this hatred. So when you sit down and talk like rational people, without all these slogans, without being bigots, without bringing guns, they will find out that they’re talking to another human.”
Wyloge is part of the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting in Phoenix.