Initiative brings people together, provides education and support for faith leaders

We’ve all heard the saying “there’s strength in numbers.” From volunteers coming together to build a home to the mass migration of monarch butterflies, when people (or even animals) come together, beautiful and powerful things can happen.

King County is no different. When it provides opportunities for the community to come together, there are amazing results. For example, the American Muslim Empowerment Network, a program of the Muslim American Association of Puget Sound (MAPS), received funding from the King County Resilience Fund to strengthen community support for immigrants and refugees who are at risk. This recently culminated in the Faith Over Fear conference, a two-day training held in January that brought together faith leaders from diverse backgrounds to stand in solidarity with Muslims here in King County.

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Pictured: Aneelah Afzali, Executive Director of the American Muslim Empowerment Network, speaks at the Faith Over Fear conference. She is joined on stage by other guest speakers, including King County Executive Dow Constantine, seated far right.

“It’s important to bring people together as friends and allies so that they can stand with us to combat hatred and bigotry,” said Aneelah Afzali, Executive Director of the American Muslim Empowerment Network (AMEN). “Faith Over Fear was about equipping faith leaders to address Islamophobia and counter the efforts of those who wish to divide us as a community.”

The conference initially started as a roadshow, also funded by the Resilience Fund, held over several months in the fall of 2017. Partnering with the organization Neighbors in Faith, AMEN was able to provide 12 short, interactive workshops to faith leaders in different cities throughout western Washington. It was from these workshops that AMEN decided to hold a bigger event that would give attendees more learning opportunities.

“It was during this roadshow that we saw just how much faith leaders play a role and decided it was important to give them a deeper training,” said Aneelah. “We talked about creating a deeper dive or conference, not just a one-off training that would give effective, research-based information that could be shared with others.”

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Pictured: Aneelah Afzali, center, with attendees of the Faith Over Fear conference.

The two day conference provided participants with information covering a wide variety of topics. The training focused on giving faith leaders the skills to have open discussions with their congregations and feel capable of becoming an effective ally to Muslim neighbors. National and local experts facilitated trainings on issues such as “The Basics of Islam and Islamophobia,” “Who American Muslims Are,” “How to locate and address our fears” and “How to respond to common misconceptions and questions about Islam and Muslims.”

A resounding success, the conference was attended by more than 90 participants and brought together several notable local and national organizations, including interfaith organization Shoulder-to-Shoulder and the Council on American Islamic Relations Washington.

“King County funded this work through the Resilience Fund in late 2017 because the focus of this project is aligned with the values we have as a County and the vision we have for our communities,” said Bookda Gheisar, Immigrant and Refugee Policy Analyst with Office of the Executive. “We are proud of the work of MAPS-AMEN and stand together to protect the rights of our Muslim brothers and sisters, and to show that discrimination and hate have no place in America.”

By working with faith leaders around the region, AMEN is able to educate and provide understanding to communities that may otherwise not have the opportunity to learn about Islam and the discrimination many Muslims are facing. This inclusive approach highlights the importance of collaboration to develop healthy, equitable communities.

“Our purpose is to build bridges of understanding and unity so that we can advocate for justice together,” said Aneelah. “It’s in our wider interest to fight for things that impact us all.”

“We want to help people stand with us to combat Islamophobia directly so we can have safe, secure communities.”

The next step in this program is to continue the roadshow throughout eastern Washington and further build on AMEN’s award-winning work. Founded in 2016, AMEN is an independent program of MAPS with four key priorities which include coalition building, education, leveraging media properly and empowering people to be future leaders. The organization is focused on fighting hatred and bringing together faith leaders in Washington to build a future that is welcoming to all.

For more information about MAPS-AMEN, visit http://www.mapsredmond.org. To learn more about the recent conference read this article published in the International Examiner, or view this King 5 interview with Shoulder-to-Shoulder Director Dr. Catherine Osborne.

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Pictured: Attendees of the Faith Over Fear conference came from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives to learn how to overcome misconceptions and questions about Islam and Muslims