Even though statistics show that domestic terrorism and white supremacists are a much bigger threat to Americans than radical Islam, anti-Muslim sentiment and hate crimes have swelled in America in recent years.
Now, a disturbing string of nationally coordinated rallies -- some that may draw angry and armed protestors -- is being planned for October 9 and October 10 at roughly 20 mosques or Islamic centers across the country. The Council on American-Islamic Relations has warned mosques to take extra security measures during the so-called "Global Rally for Humanity" events. Muslim leaders are advising the community to take the "moral high ground" and avoid direct confrontation with protestors who bring messages of hate onto sacred ground.
But American Muslim communities are not being left to face these protestors alone. Interfaith groups are stepping in, offering to organize counter protests, build peace circles and engage in long-term community building.
That's what happened in Phoenix earlier this year, after a group of bikers organized an anti-Muslim rally outside a mosque. Religious leaders in the area organized an interfaith prayer vigil inside the targeted mosque, bringing about 200 community members of many different faiths together in a powerful show of solidarity.
Rev. Erin Tamayo, Executive Director of the Arizona Faith Network and one of the organizers of the vigil, said that the hate rally has actually strengthened interfaith networks in Phoenix. Her organization has developed close ties with two mosques in the area, setting the groundwork for their response this week.
"I'm sure the hate groups weren't hoping for that [positive outcome]," Tamayo told The Huffington Post. "But that's really what's happening here."
Catherine Orsborn, director of the Shoulder to Shoulder interfaith campaign, which aims to end anti-Muslim bigotry, said that after the Phoenix vigil, the interfaith community is more willing to be "out there and out front" for their Muslim brothers and sisters. But an important first step is to reach out to mosque leadership and ask whether a public action is what they really want.
"Muslim communities may not want to exacerbate the situation by drawing attention to [the rallies] and feeding the hype," Orsborn told HuffPost. "We're really examining what it looks like to be a good interfaith ally in this situation."
With that caveat in mind, here are some ways activists are planning to show love for their Muslim neighbors this weekend. (Plus, a few ways that you can join them).
1. Organize An Interfaith Community Dinner
The Spokane Interfaith Council, based in Washington, is organizing a community potluck dinner at Spokane's Islamic Center on October 10.
"We would be remiss if we didn't take this opportunity to learn more about our neighbors in Spokane, for, we know that if we are not celebrating and sharing in the joys of our Muslim neighbors, our Jewish neighbors, our Sikh neighbors, we aren't creating community," the organizers wrote.
2. Screen The Film "American Muslims: Facts vs. Fiction"
How well do you know American Muslims?
The film "American Muslims: Facts vs. Fiction" dives into facts about the Muslim community, looking at everything from how often they watch television to how often they attend religious prayer services.
Seattle's Interfaith Community Sanctuary will be hosting Friday prayers on October 9, followed by a screening of the film. Sanctuary leaders hope the film will spur conversation about how to "create awareness, good will, and harmony" between people of different faiths.
"We understand that campaigns such as the 'Global Rally for Humanity' are birthed from a place of fear, lack of awareness, and a desire for safety and security," the sanctuary's leaders told HuffPost in a statement. "These situations provide opportunities for all of us to expand our education, raise awareness, practice compassion, and make every effort to establish a personal connection with the other."
3. Create A Safe Space For Dialogue
The Catholic Diocese of Toledo, Ohio is joining forces with the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo to organize a panel discussion on October 8 about Muslim-Catholic relations. The event also celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Nostra aetate, a Vatican document that affirms the Catholic Church's commitment to promoting strong interfaith relations.
The purpose of the discussion is to "foster mutual knowledge and understanding," the diocese wrote on its event page.
Other Ways You Can Take Action
1. Form A Human Peace Circle
Peace circles are powerful displays of solidarity. They are signs that allies are willing to act as human shields of protection for their brothers and sisters of different faiths. Numerous peace circles have sprung up in Europe this year, as a response to growing anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish sentiment.
Check in with your local interfaith networks and make sure that mosque leaders are on board with this action. Some communities may want to avoid counter-protests on the day of an anti-Muslim rally, and instead choose to hold an interfaith event at a separate time or place.
2. Help To Clean Up Your Local Mosque
After vandals spray-painted hateful messages on the walls of a Louisville mosques, nearly 1,000 residents banded together to help cover up the graffiti. But you don't need to wait until something negative happens to show your concern for your local Muslim community. Reach out to your local mosque to see if members need help with yardwork or if their buildings could be spruced up with a fresh coat of paint.
3. Get Involved With Your Local Interfaith Network
They exist. All over the country. And they're involved with the long-term work of building a coalition of faithful voices call for change on a wide range of issues -- from protecting the environment to helping refugees start new lives in America.
Working together toward a common cause is what really builds interfaith relations, according to Josephine Lopez Paul, Lead Organizer of the advocacy group Dallas Area Interfaith.
"These protests and rallies come and go," Lopez Paul told HuffPost. "But the slow patient work remains."
4. Hang Out At Your University’s Interfaith Center
Many universities have centers dedicated to spiritual life where students of different faith backgrounds (or no faith at all) are able to meet and mingle. Chaplain offices are also often a locus for social justice work. Talk to your college chaplains and get to know other students who are interested in interfaith work. Check out the Interfaith Youth Core's resources and guidance if you're not sure where to start. You won’t regret it.
Also On HuffPost: