Missoula City Council celebrates, defends religious freedom

Based in Missoula, SALAM’s goal is to support our Muslim neighbors through education, understanding and informed, respectful discussion.

By Sherry Devlin/Missoula Current

When a diverse group of Missoula residents formed Standing Alongside America’s Muslims a year ago, they hoped to push back against a rising tide of Islamophobia.

Never did they imagine that, a year on, the waves of anti-Muslim sentiment would have grown even stronger.

But neither the members of SALAM nor the Missoula City Council are deterred from their message, and mission, of tolerance and religious freedom.

Thus Monday night’s proclamation by Missoula’s mayor and City Council declaring April 24-30 Celebrate Religious Freedom Week, and SALAM’s coinciding schedule of Celebrate Islam Week events.

“There is an alarming escalation of national and local incidents and rhetoric directed against immigrants, refugees and people of faith,” reads the city’s resolution. “We are Americans who value freedom of religion and want to create a positive environment where we can learn from each other’s faiths.”

“We believe that open dialog that doesn’t demonize any side is critical to address the fears and concerns that exist,” the resolution continued, “and we want our community to be a place where all people, feel welcome and appreciated.”

Laurie Franklin, leader of Missoula’s Har Shalom Jewish congregation, thanked city leaders for their support, and said she was honored that SALAM’s resolution was on the same agenda as proclamations designating Pride Week and Arbor Day.

Laurie Franklin

SALAM is a group representing Judaism, Islam and Christianity, Franklin said. “Our goal is to build relationships, and to dispel misunderstandings and fear.”

Next week’s events celebrating Islam are SALAM’s second annual, and have been rendered ever more timely by events that have transpired since the election of President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly tried to ban Muslims from immigrating to the United States.

Celebrate Islam Week will begin at 5:15 p.m. on Monday, April 24 with a banquet at First Prebyterian Church, 235 S. Fifth St. W. Refugee families will prepare the meal, which will be followed by short presentations and discussion.

On Tuesday, April 25, in the University Center Theater, SALAM will show “The White Helmets,” an Oscar-winning documentary about rescue workers caught in the middle of the Syrian civil war. Ambassador Mark Johnson will introduce the 40-minute film, and a panel discussion will follow. The event begins at 7 p.m.

At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 26, the dialogue will move to Forestry Building, Room 305, where UM students will share stories of their travels to the Islamic world, beginning at 6:30 p.m.

On Thursday, April 27, at 7 p.m. in Urey Lecture Hall, the presentation will be given by Darwood Yasin of Zaytuna College, the first Islamic liberal arts college in the United States. He will speak about Islam’s long history in the U.S., and what the Islamic community looks like today.

Dances of Universal Peace are planned for Saturday, April 29, beginning at 6 p.m. at Congregation Har Shalom. No musical or dance experience is required.

Finally, on Sunday, April 30, Congregation Har Shalom will host Crossing the Bridge, an interactive ritual originally created by two survivors of the Holocaust. The 2-4 p.m. event is open to all, and is intended to overcome the barriers that separate individuals and communities.

For more information, including tickets to the opening banquet, go online to the Facebook page, Standing Alongside America’s Muslims – SALAM: https://www.facebook.com/SALAMMissoula/?hc_ref=PAGES_TIMELINE&fref=nf