33 Moments In 2016 That Proved Religion Can Be A Force For Good

After a difficult year, these are the stories that give us hope.

It has been a devastating and difficult year. Terror attacks, police shootings, record-hot temperatures, and spikes in Islamophobia and anti-Semitism made 2016 feel almost too much to bear at times. With everything that happened, it’s no wonder some speculated, “Is 2016 the worst year in history?

And yet, a review of the year in religion news reveals pockets of hope that got us through 2016. People of all different faiths stood up for social justice, for the rights of minorities and marginalized communities, for the environment, for freedom and for one another. These moments reminded us that no story is simply tragic or #blessed. Life is complicated and often full of suffering, but the journey can still be beautiful.

Here are 33 moments in religion news that made this difficult year just a bit easier to bear:

Amazon Tackled Islamophobia In Heartwarming Christmas Ad
At a time when people of different faiths are often pitted against one another, Amazon chose to highlight a moment of friendship between a Christian and a Muslim in its Christmas advertisement published in November. And it was exactly the kind of interfaith solidarity the world needs to focus on right now.
Allies Formed A Circle Of Protection Around Muslim Students Praying In Michigan

@uofmichigan students protecting ishaa prayer at the Diag

A photo posted by Benji Bear. (@benji_bear_photography) on

After hearing that a Muslim student had reportedly been threatened for her faith, hundreds of University of Michigan students and faculty showed up to stand guard around classmates who had gathered in a main square to perform one of Islam’s five daily prayers in November.

“Hundreds and hundreds of people came out for both prayer and showing their support,” the school's Muslim Student Association president Farhan Ali told The Huffington Post. “The amount of support was overwhelming and absolutely wonderful, and it brought some ease to the Muslim students [and] showed that we have other individuals who are willing to stand with us.”
Progressive Christians Stood Up Against The Bigotry Of The Election
The vast majority of white evangelicals ― 81 percent ― voted for Donald Trump in November's election, along with a majority of Catholics, Mormons, other Protestant groups and an assortment of other Christian denominations. But a smaller, though vocal, contingent of American Christians decried the bigotry, xenophobia and sexism they saw expressed throughout Trump's campaign. After the Nov. 8 election, these progressive Christians regrouped and spread a message of equality, social justice and revolutionary love.
U.S. Lutherans Approved A Historic Agreement With The Catholic Church
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Almost 500 years after Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany, the largest Lutheran denomination in the U.S. approved a declaration in August recognizing “there are no longer church-dividing issues” on many points with the Roman Catholic Church. The historic decision brought two formerly alienated churches together just in time for the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
Sikh Bikers Rode Thousands Of Miles To Raise Money For Cancer Society
Sikh Motorcycle Club/Facebook
A group of Sikh motorcycle enthusiasts in British Columbia, Canada, hit the road in July to raise money for pediatric cancer awareness. Two weeks and more than 7,000 miles later, the B.C.-based Sikh Motorcycle Club had raised over $60,000 on behalf of the Canadian Cancer Society.

“We had some thunderstorms, and it started hailing... But then we thought about those kids that are in need, that need that money and so that gave us energy and we kept fighting through it,” rider Charnjit Dhadda told CTV News Vancouver.
Dalilah Muhammad Became First U.S. Woman To Win A Gold Medal In The 400-Meter Hurdles
Jean Catuffe via Getty Images
New York City native Dalilah Muhammad took home a gold medal at the Rio Olympics in August, becoming the first American woman to win gold in the 400-meter hurdles. As she headed to Rio, Muhammad's parents credited the athlete's Muslim faith for giving her the drive needed to make it all way to the Olympics. "A lot of people don't realize how much work that goes into producing an Olympic athlete," Askia Muhammad told NY1 in August.
The African Methodist Episcopal Church Passed An Important Climate Resolution
Johanna Poetsch via Getty Images
African Methodist Episcopal Church leaders took a stand against climate change in July and urged their congregations and communities to do the same. Some 30,000 AME clergy, leaders and members passed a resolution to support the historic 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. “Damage to our climate puts the health of children, elderly, and those with chronic illnesses at greater risk and disproportionately impacts African Americans,” Bishop John White, president of the AME Church’s Council of Bishops, said in a statement.
A Group Of Muslim Teens Used Slam Poetry To Educate Others About Their Faith
Sarah Gliech
Slam poetry quartet Muslim Girls Making Change, participated in the international youth poetry festival Brave New Voices in July. Teens Kiran Waqar, Balkisa Abdikadir, Hawa Adam and Lena Ginawi spread awareness about their faith and the perils of Islamophobia through the art of poetry.

“Whenever you hear the word terrorism I don’t want the first thing you think about is Islam, because Islam, to me, is a religion of peace,” Ginawi told the Associated Press. “Anything that these terrorists do has nothing to do with Islam.”
Joe Biden, A Lifelong Catholic, Sent His Blessing To A Gay Wedding
Vice President Joe Biden achieved a personal milestone in August when he served as an officiant at a wedding for the very first time. But the simple private ceremony, which celebrated the love between White House staffers Brian Mosteller and Joe Mahshie, was also a significant moment for Catholics in America. As a lifelong Catholic and the country’s first Catholic vice president, Biden’s participation in the ceremony was a poignant reminder of a shift within the American Catholic church toward a more accepting view of same-sex marriage.

Biden personally endorsed marriage equality in 2012, saying in an interview with "Meet the Press": "The good news is that as more and more Americans come to understand what this is all about is a simple proposition. Who do you love? Who do you love and will you be loyal to the person you love? And that’s what people are finding out what all marriages at their root are about.”
California Took A Bold Stand Against Islamophobia
FREDERIC J. BROWN via Getty Images
Amid frightening, almost daily reports of anti-Muslim attacks and rhetoric in 2016, California’s State Assembly took a strong stand against a rising climate of Islamophobia in America. In August, the Assembly passed a resolution that declared August 2016 as Muslim Appreciation and Awareness Month, as part of an effort to acknowledge the “myriad invaluable contributions of Muslim Americans in California and across the country.”

“During these difficult times of increased anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate incidents, [the] resolution and recognition of Muslim Americans is uplifting for our community and immensely appreciated,” said Basim Elkarra, Sacramento Valley Executive Director of the advocacy organization Council on American-Islamic Relations. “It is truly a historic moment for all Californians.”
New York Fashion Week Had Its First All-Hijab Show
Frazer Harrison via Getty Images
In a country where Muslim women have been fired and rejected from college for wearing a hijab, it was refreshing to see New York Fashion Week embrace the religious article. Muslim Indonesian designer Anniesa Hasibuan made history in September with a dazzling show featuring hijabs accompanying all 48 outfits. As the show ended, she received a standing ovation from a largely non-Muslim audience.
People Of Faith Stood With Standing Rock
JIM WATSON via Getty Images
Over the months of demonstrations at the Sacred Stone Camp in North Dakota, progressive Christianreligiousdenominations, as well as the Jewish Voice for Peace, demonstrated their solidarity with this movement. And in October, a coalition of Muslim organizations spearheaded by the activist groups Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative, MPower Change, and by indigenous converts to Islam raised over $12,000 online to support the Sacred Stone Camp.

More than 500 interfaith clergy members also hosted an important ceremony during which they burned copies of the Doctrine of Discovery, a series of religious documents from the 15th century that justified the colonization of the Americas and the oppression of its native people.

And just hours before the December victory at Standing Rock, hundreds of interfaith clergy and lay activists gathered near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation to pray for the earth.
A New Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council Formed And Is Gearing Up To Work With Trump Administration
Mark Wilson via Getty Images
A new council of prominent American Muslims and Jews announced its formation in the wake of President-elect Donald Trump’s win in November. Spearheaded by advocacy organizations the American Jewish Committee and the Islamic Society of North America, the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council brought together two often alienated groups. The council plans to draft policy agendas to submit to Congress to ensure the rights and protections of minority religious groups.
Sikhs In New Jersey Fed Thousands Because It’s The Sikh Thing To Do
Nanak Naam Jahaj Gurudwara
A Sikh community in New Jersey came together over the weekend before Thanksgiving in an attempt to feed more than 13,000 people in need of a free meal. Over 500 volunteers from Jersey City’s Nanak Naam Jahaj Gurudwara cooked and delivered vegetarian meals to approximately 80 locations in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, including churches, shelters, and a correction center.

Sharing food is an integral part of the Sikh religious tradition. Every gurdwara, or Sikh temple, is supposed to have a langar, or kitchen, that is free and open to all people. “[The langar] is designed to uphold the principle of equality between all people of the world regardless of religion, caste, color, creed, age, gender or social status; to eliminate extreme poverty in the world and to bring about the birth of ‘caring communities,’” Onkar Singh, the main organizer for the “Let’s Share A Meal” event, told HuffPost.
‘Hijabis Of New York’ Gave Muslim Women The Attention They Deserve
Aniqa Hassan/Hijabis Of New York
In the face of rising Islamophobia and intolerance of Muslim Americans, activist Rana Abdelhamid raised awareness about Islam and humanized Muslim women with her beautiful photo series "Hijabis of New York." She started the series as a Tumblr and Facebook page in October 2014 and kept it running through 2015 and 2016, showcasing the diversity of Muslim women who wear hijabs in New York. “There’s something to it when [Muslim women are] leading our own empowerment movement,” Abdelhamid told HuffPost.
A Blindfolded Muslim Woman Asked London For Hugs And A Lovefest Ensued

Although i was blindfolded, the love was felt.

A photo posted by Muna (@munaadan) on

Eighteen-year-old Muna Adan, a student from East London, decided to do a social experiment to see whether her city would embrace her as a Muslim woman. In January, Adan positioned herself in Trafalgar Square with a cardboard sign that read, “I am a Muslim, not a terrorist. If you trust me, give me a hug.” She then tied a black blindfold around her head and waited. According to video footage of the project, people responded with an incredible show of love.
Pope Francis Prioritized Interfaith And Interchurch Meetings
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Pope Francis had several critical meetings with leaders of different religious groups, demonstrating his commitment to interfaith work. In February, he met with Patriarch Kirill, head of the largest branch of the Eastern Orthodox church, indicating a symbolic step towards healing a nearly 1,000-year-old schism within Christianity. Several months later he sat down with the grand imam of Egypt’s highest Islamic authority, Al-Azhar, in an attempt to heal Vatican relations with Sunni Muslim leaders after a five-year freeze in dialogue. Then in October, Francis received some one thousand pilgrims in the Vatican – most of them German Lutherans – as part of ecumenical preparations for the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
Harvard Launched A Free Online Class To Promote Religious Literacy
Fred De Noyelle /GODONG via Getty Images
Religion professors from Harvard University, Harvard Divinity School and Wellesley College launched a free, online series on world religions open to the masses in February. The courses were offered via an online learning platform called edX, and dove into Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Judaism. Nearly 140,000 people signed up for the courses, said Diane Moore, director of Harvard Divinity School’s Religious Literacy Project and one of the professors behind the initiative.

"The course exceeded our expectations in terms of both numbers and the quality of learning that was represented in evaluations," Moore told HuffPost.
Norway’s Leading Church Voted In Favor Of Same-Sex Marriage
Norway’s Lutheran Church voted in April in favor of allowing same-sex marriage, joining a small but growing number of churches worldwide to do so. In a vote at the annual conference of the Norwegian Lutheran Church, 88 delegates out of 115 in total backed same-sex marriage.

“Finally we can celebrate love independently of whom one falls in love with,” said Gard Sandaker-Nilsen, leader of the Open Public Church, a religious movement within the church that had campaigned to change the rules.
American Muslims Joined Forces For The First ‘National Muslim Soup Kitchen Day’
Hundreds of American Muslims around the country joined forces to put their faith into action for the first National Muslim Soup Kitchen Day in May. More than 20 teams from mosques, Muslim student clubs, and faith-based non-profits signed up to serve in soup kitchens across the country. The volunteers cooked and distributed more than 3,000 meals throughout the day in New York, Florida, Alabama, and seven other states, according to the Muslim Soup Kitchen Project (MSKP), the New York-based organization that coordinated the national event.

At a time when more Islamophobic rhetoric and hate crimes seem to pop up every month, organizer Uzma Popal said that she hoped the national service day would help create unity. “It was just beautiful seeing everybody come together," she told HuffPost.
An Outpouring Of Methodist Clergy Pledged Support To Their LGBT Colleagues
Marc Bruxelle via Getty Images
One week after more than 100 United Methodist clergy collectively came out as LGBT, hundreds of their colleagues called for the church to end discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation in May. “We, the undersigned clergy of The United Methodist Church, believe it is time: time for us to end the practice of requiring LGBTQI clergy and clergy candidates to hide their most authentic selves,” stated the open letter to the church, composed by the Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, the Rev. Gil Caldwell, and the Rev. Frank Schaefer, and released by Reconciling Ministries Network. In just one week, the letter had garnered 1,592 signatures from clergy members.
A Pitiful Anti-Muslim Rally Was Swamped By Hundreds Promoting Love
Holy Islamberg, New York -- a small rural enclave that's home to a predominantly Muslim population -- was expecting to be inundated with anti-Muslim protesters in May. But instead, more than 400 people showed up to show a solid front against the American Bikers United Against Jihad, a group whose stated goal was to mobilize like-minded “patriots” against “violent and stealth Jihad.”

“To see so many people come and join and actually say: ‘This isn’t right, this isn’t fair, and we’re not going for it,’ it’s wonderful. Very wonderful,” resident Dr. Bilqees Abdullah told The Guardian.
Interfaith Iftars Brought Communities Together For Ramadan
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During the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in June and July, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, breaking their fast every evening with the ritual iftar meal. This year, congregations and religious leaders organized interfaith iftars to bring people of different faiths together to observe the important Islamic custom.

The Council of American-Islamic Relations released its annual “Sharing Ramadan Resource Guide“ in the days before Ramadan, providing everything down to the press release for mosques across the U.S. to successfully plan and host an interfaith iftar. “We hope that just about every local community will have some type of event,” Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR’s communications director, told HuffPost.
A Group Of Conservative Jewish Rabbis Took A Stand For Transgender Rights
The Rabbinical Assembly, which encompasses an international association of Conservative rabbis, passed a powerful resolution in June affirming the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming people. “Our Torah asserts that all humanity is created b’tzelem Elohim, in God’s Divine Image,” the rabbi’s resolution stated.

Rabbi Gil Steinlauf, senior rabbi of Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C. who came out as gay in 2014, said in an interview with LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign: “I hope this resolution will go far in promoting this deep truth of our religion in our society and in the world.”
A Hindu Couple’s Remarkable Love Story Gave Us All The Feels
John McCane and his partner, Salaphaty Rao, lived on opposite sides of the world — McCane in Peebles, Ohio, and Rao in Melbourne, Australia. But against innumerable odds, faith (and Facebook) brought these two soulmates together. Earlier this year, they got to celebrate their remarkable love story in a deeply meaningful way — with big, beautiful Hindu engagement ceremony.

“His family was completely involved and supportive, from grandparents in their 80s and 70s, to middle-aged families, everyone, because they have an absolute love for him,” McCane told HuffPost.
An Outpouring Of LGBT And Muslim Groups Signed Statement Against Bigotry
In the wake of the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, LGBT and Muslim groups came together in June with the message that “love is stronger than hate.” Sixty-eight groups and two national leaders, including GLAAD, Muslim Public Affairs Council and The Trevor Project, signed the “Muslim-LGBTQ Unity Statement in Response to Divisive Rhetoric After Orlando Shooting.” The statement urged people of all faiths and backgrounds to stand together in a time of hate. “In standing together, hand in hand, across every faith, we send a powerful message to those who seek to divide us using hatred and violence: Love is stronger than hate and hope will defeat fear,” the statement read.
A Mosque Invited A Church To Use Its Space For Worship
Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lansing/Facebook
When a Michigan Unitarian Universalist congregation found itself homeless in June, a local mosque came to the rescue and offered them a space free of charge. “This has been the Muslim tradition for over 1,400 years — to be hospitable, to take care of your guest,” Imam Sohail Chaudhry of The Islamic Center of East Lansing told HuffPost.

The church's building was under construction for several months, but it was conveniently able to use the mosque's space for Sunday services as Muslim prayers take place on Fridays.
These Jewish And Muslim BFFs Created The Halloween Costume The World Needed
When it came to making Halloween meaningful this year, these teens bested us all. Casey Pearlman and Yasmin Idris, a pair of 13-year-old BFFs from Laguna Niguel, California, decided to dress up as interfaith superheroes for Halloween. And they rocked it ― from their striped leggings to their bright, glittery capes. In honor of their two religious identities (Pearlman is Jewish and Idris is Muslim), the friends called themselves “The Juslims.”

Pearlman’s dad posted a viral image of the two buddies on his Twitter account, saying that he’s “rarely been more proud.” We can understand why.
Muslims Attended Catholic Mass Across France In A Powerful Show Of Unity
Muslims gathered for Catholic Mass in churches and cathedrals across France in July in a powerful display of unity following the killing of an elderly priest. Dozens of Muslims attended Mass in Rouen, a few miles from the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray where two French teenagers slit the throat of 85-year-old Rev. Jacques Hamel after pledging allegiance to the Islamic State militant group. One of the nuns who was taken hostage during the attack embraced the Muslim attendees after the service, The Associated Press reported.

“We are very moved by the presence of our Muslim friends and I believe it is a courageous act that they did by coming to us,” Dominique Lebrun, the archbishop of Rouen, said after the Mass.
These Teen Boxers Showed Us All The Real Meaning Of Sportswomanship
Sixteen-year-old amateur boxer Amaiya Zafar has never gotten the chance to fight in an official competition. She’s a Muslim who wears a hijab and covers her arms and legs while fighting ― which isn’t approved by international boxing regulations ― so she’s usually banned from the ring before her matches even begin. But when Zafar and her family arrived at the Sugar Bert Boxing National Championships in Kissimmee, Fla. in November, her opponent came to her defense. When Zafar was disqualified, her potential opponent, Aliyah Charbonier, decided to put solidarity before victory, telling Zafar that she would share the winner’s belt.
Thousands Of Pagans Stood Up For The Environment
amenic181 via Getty Images
In the months leading up to 2015's Earth Day, a group of roughly 50 pagans gathered in a closed Facebook group to draft a collective call to action. On April 22, 2015, they published the “Pagan Community Statement on the Environment,” which framed climate change as a global moral dilemma to which pagans and other people of faith must respond. By 2016's Earth Day, the statement had garnered nearly 10,000 signatures.

“If there is any issue on which we Pagans should be able to speak harmoniously, it is in response to the desecration of the Earth," John Halstead, founder of the statement’s working group, told HuffPost in April. "I hope that this helps demonstrate to the interfaith activist community that Pagans are serious and worthy partners in the fight to turn the tide of global climate change."
A Mumbai Mosque Lifted Its Ban On Women And Hundreds Came Out To Celebrate
PUNIT PARANJPE via Getty Images
More than 200 women entered the inner sanctum of Mumbai’s historic Haji Ali Dargah mosque in November after trustees at the site lifted a ban on female visitors. The tomb houses the remains of Islamic saint Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari and had been off-limits to women for several years. Following a drawn out legal battle, the mosque finally lifted its ban.

“We are very happy the ban against women’s entry into the shrine was lifted,” activist Noorjehan Safia Niaz told The Guardian. “Credit must be given where due, and the trustees ensured our visit to the inner sanctum of the mosque was peaceful … We even had chai with them after the visit.”
A Mosque Was ‘Vandalized’ With Messages Of Love From Their Local Community
After a year filled with Islamophobia and anti-Muslim acts, it was heartening to see a campaign with a very different mission. Messages of love, compassion and support turned up on the sidewalk of a mosque in Virginia in November. Members of the Mubarak Mosque in Chantilly, Virginia were delighted to read, “You are loved,” “We are your brothers and sisters” and “We are with you” written in sidewalk chalk on the paths leading up to the building.

We believe it was someone in our neighboring community,” said Tariq Amjed, president of the Central Virginia Chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, who first discovered the messages. “We have been here for about four or five years now and we have a beautiful community of people around us. This proves it once more, and we hope they come visit our mosque.”

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