WASHINGTON, DC – A hijab-wearing Muslim woman with a Harvard law degree has joined a white Lutheran pastor in developing a unique friendship, touring different American cities to fight Islamophobia and division.
“I am so extremely bothered by what I see happening around us today, the growing divisiveness, polarization, hate and even violence,” Aneelah Afzali told Crosscut.com.
The sight of Afzali and Rev. Terry Kyllo preaching together in churches has become a norm for dozens of Washington residents.
The pair usually reserve their sermons for small, conservative towns filled with voters who support President Donald Trump and who may have never personally met a Muslim.
“We have so much else in common with our Christian sisters and brothers, but unfortunately there’s an entire industry that is trying to spread misinformation about Islam and Muslims in our country in order to divide us,” Afzali said.
The “overwhelming majority are just trying to live their lives and do good as the Qur’an commands.”
“Violence and evil, it has no unique religion,” Afzali concluded.
Anti-Muslim violence was on the rise, however, well before Donald Trump took office — “and it goes well, well beyond him as well,” Afzali said.
“This is not something that we can sort of point to one person or blame one person for.”
The pair’s cooperation started after Afzali attended Trump’s first State of the Union address as a guest of US Representative Pramila Jayapal in 2016.
Afzali wore a hijab imprinted with a pattern of the American flag. “I did that to showcase the fact that my American and my Muslim identities, they go hand in hand,” Afzali said.
Spotting her in the video, Kyllo, 53, met Afzali at a coffee shop in Redmond where they agreed to try to reach people in the rural areas.
“Muslims cannot have 100 best friends and sustain that. So we need faith community groups to be gathering people together so we can amplify the number of folks able to meet Muslims and have a significant conversation without wearing out our Muslim friends,” Kyllo said recently.
Afzali believes that Islamophobia is taking its toll on every American.
“Islamophobia affects every single American who cares about freedom and democracy,” she said.
“Islamophobia also opens the door to other forms of bigotry because bigotry and hate, they’re like a fire in a house, and you can’t just say that’s my brother’s room, I don’t care about his stuff, because that’s not the way it works.”