In 2020, as our city and nation were coming to terms with the worst pandemic in recent history, a number of racially charged tragedies have shaken us even further and appear to threaten our integrity more than any physical virus could. Perhaps best personified by events surrounding the death of George Floyd, Americans realized that half a century after the Civil Rights Movement, our nation still harbors grave racial injustices. In light of these events, the Buffalo-Niagara Chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community held speaker-conferences to address disparities in the American social and justice systems.
The conferences were attended by a slew of religious, academic and government leaders. Religious leaders took to scriptural authority to emphasize the importance of equity and justice in God’s eyes. Rabbi Alex Lazarus-Klein representing Judaism pointed to some of the very first words of the Hebrew Bible in Genesis 1:27: And God created man in the image of God, male and female. Jewish theology emphasizes that humanity is spoken of as one individual in this verse to promote peace so ‘one person will not say to another that my progenitor is greater than yours’.
Similarly, Reverend Kinzer Pointer representing Christianity quoted verses from Matthew 25 (verses 31-46) where Jesus favorably judges those who had fed him when he was hungry, and clothed him when he was naked, identifying himself as the marginalized, underprivileged and downtrodden. Imam Adnan Ahmad representing Islam also spoke of the fundamental values of faith as enshrined in verse 49:14 of The Holy Quran which quotes God creating humanity in various peoples and tribes and announcing that the most honorable among people are the just and righteous, not those who consider themselves privileged or supreme. These teachings of world religions have great potential to heal the crisis of social injustice among their adherents that span most towns and communities.
Government leaders also have great responsibility to promulgate the right laws and policies, and oversee their implementation in order to overcome social and racial inequity. Marie Cannon (Erie County Commissioner of Social Services) pointed out that our government policies have long restricted access to favorable housing and welfare on racial grounds. Robert Restaino, mayor of Niagara Falls, spoke of newly appointed government commissions to identify and address disparities in the areas of law enforcement, education, employment, housing and healthcare. As both government leaders pointed out, it remains to be seen if the heightened importance of racial equality will sustain itself over time and transform into long term efforts and results that will truly bring about the supremacy of equity and justice.
As Muslims, Christians, Jews and peoples of all faiths, and as government leaders, educators and citizens, we all bear the responsibility of conducting ourselves and our laws and policies with equity and justice for all.
Amer Aziz is a writer and editor with The Muslim Writers Guild of America and Vice President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community's Buffalo-Niagara chapter.