The Interfaith Alliance of Rochester demonstration that took place last Sunday — which brought together students and faculty alike in solidarity against negative attitudes toward Muslims — could not have come at a more apt time. While it has been nine years since an extremist group of Muslims flew hijacked planes into the World Trade Center, anti-Islam sentiments in America seem to be higher than ever.

Debates rage throughout the country over issues such as a proposed Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero in New York City and Florida pastor Terry Jones calling for “International Burn a [Quran] Day.”

It is disheartening to see that American attitudes toward Muslims have not improved this long after Sept. 11. The fact that demonstrations must be held to promote something as integral to American culture as religious tolerance is shocking. While to some it seems obvious, it still must be stressed that the Sept. 11 attacks were not the work of an entire religious group but rather extremist members of a terrorist organization. Muslim-Americans deserve the same respect that is given to other religious American people.

This respect must comprise more than just “tolerance,” but rather true understanding. Here at UR, we can lead by example by building strong ties to the Muslim community both among our students and in the greater Rochester community. Muslims making up 5 percent of the state of New York provides a perfect vantage point for further acceptance and inclusion of a significant population of the state.

There are many ways to get in touch with Muslim members of the community at UR. A Muslim Students’ Association is already in existence and weekly services are held at the Interfaith Chapel. Both of these are excellent ways to build understanding and bridge connections. Tolerance is of course important — but at UR we need to move beyond just tolerance and create an inclusive community that stands strong against divisive figures such as Pastor Terry Jones.

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