PITTSBURGH – People of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, are planning a series of events to express solidarity with the Muslim community, launching the first event later this month by inviting people to visit their Muslim neighbors.
“We take an active anti-racist stance, and Islamophobia is no different,” Marnie Fritz, staff member at the Thomas Merton Center, told Next Pittsburgh on Tuesday, February 9.
“Oftentimes,” Fritz added, “when you’re talking to people who are saying racist or bigoted comments, it’s just out of ignorance or not knowing somebody on a personal level.”
Titled, “Meet Your Muslim Neighbor Potluck”, the event is planned on Wednesday, February 17th, at the Merton Center’s headquarters.
The Islamic Center of Pittsburgh will provide the food, and guests are encouraged to bring a dessert or non-alcoholic beverage.
It is the result of cooperation between Thomas Merton Center and the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh who partnered for a series of events.
“Our whole department’s main initiative is mostly to humanize Muslims in the Greater Pittsburgh area,” Kelcey Sharkas, outreach coordinator at the Islamic Center, said.
Sharkas described the event as an opportunity for Muslims and non-Muslims to come together informally and get to know one another.
“We want to alleviate all the misconceptions that are spreading wildly about Islam and Muslims in general, and to get away from all the paranoia, the ignorance, about who Muslims are,” she added.
Wednesday’s event is not the first interfaith gathering in Pittsburgh.
Earlier in December, a “Love Thy Neighbor” event was held between Sharkas and Merton Center staff person Gabriel McMorland and was hosted by Jewish Voice for Peace.
Later on, the Islamic Center hosted a Solidarity Potluck in January with Conflict Kitchen, in an event which attracted 270 people.
“That’s the biggest struggle,” says Sharkas. Even as they open up events to the public, it’s like-minded people who attend. “So you’re preaching to the choir,” she adds.
“It’s our way to try to get the non-Muslim public to be our spokespeople,” she notes.
Another event is planned next March 5 under the title “How to be a Muslim ally.”
“We promote peace,” says Fritz.
“That’s peace in personal interaction, peace in policy, peace in everyday life. And unfortunately, anti-Muslim hysteria has engulfed the media lately, distorting facts and encouraging misunderstanding about Islam. And it’s important for us to show compassion to our Muslim neighbors, to prevent the spread of intolerance.”