Partnership and tolerance over partisanship

A Maryland Muslim speculates on what the state's new governor will mean for the Islamic community.

Multitudes of Marylanders are enthusiastically celebrating the  inauguration of our state's 62nd governor, but some others — plagued with reservations and doubt — are skipping out on the festivities.

In a stunning upset last November, the Republican Hogan-Rutherford team succeeded in winning the gubernatorial election and turned our historically blue state purple. And some are still uncertain about what the GOP's arrival in Annapolis will bring for our state and our future.

I arrived in Annapolis Wednesday for the swearing-in ceremony, admittedly unsure of what to expect. As a proud, life-long Marylander who is also Muslim, many issues weigh on my mind.

In addition to taxes, the minimum wage, economy, health care and other issues that typically concern constituents, I am also deeply vested in nurturing a climate in our state that prioritizes social justice issues; champions equal rights; and not only acknowledges, but also embraces, Maryland's substantially large Muslim population.

Racial profiling, systemic racism and incidents of police brutality all continue to pose a threat to the safety and security of Maryland's marginalized communities.

In my capacity as a civil rights activist, I have witnessed firsthand the disturbing rise in racism, hate crimes, bullying and anti-Muslim sentiment in our own state over the past year. Whether it's a parent protesting his child's World History homework on Islam, vandalism of personal property or public school students being told by an educator that Muslims are all responsible for 9/11, our society is growing more intolerant.

We have also seen the formation of a culture that accepts and encourages Islam bashing in pop culture, the media and on social media platforms.

Global challenges that negatively impact the perception of the world's second largest religion — coupled with a thriving Islamophobia industry here at home — only reinforce that fact that the onus is on Maryland's Muslim communities to work harder in order to counteract fear and mistrust.

The "Black Lives Matter" movement has spread like wildfire from Ferguson, Mo., to Baltimore as members of the black community and their allies have stood up to take a firm stand against profiling by law enforcement. Faith-based groups alsosubjected todiscriminationcould benefit from following their example.

But as I work diligently with these communities to tackle challenges head-on and promote mutual understanding, the question lingers in my mind: What will a Hogan-Rutherford administration mean for civil rights and the plight of Maryland Muslims?

If the remarks our newly minted governor made after taking his oath at the State House in Annapolis are any indication, we can be cautiously optimistic.

Governor Hogan delivered a speech to hundreds of onlookers that was liberally infused with numerous calls for not only bipartisanship, but also tolerance and respect.

He pledged to shun party politics and spoke of his commitment to reaching across the aisle and working together with state lawmakers regardless of their party affiliations to find solutions to serious problems.

He quoted President Kennedy: "Let's not seek the Republican answer, or the Democratic answer, but the right answer."

Also in the same spirit of cooperation, Maryland's new governor referenced the Maryland Toleration Act of 1649 — one of the first laws in our country that granted different faiths the right to freely worship.

He spoke of Maryland as "wonderfully defined by our vibrant culture of racial, ethnic, and religious diversity."

As a member of a minority, often-marginalized community, who has deep-rooted ties to our great state, this segment of his speech especially struck a chord. The hallmark of a pluralistic society is that members of diverse communities can coexist peacefully without feeling threatened or persecuted because of their race, religion or ethnicity.

Governor Hogan went on to state: "In our hearts, Marylanders are hard-wired for inclusiveness. It's who we are, it's our founding principle, it's part of our identity, and it is our greatest strength."

This critical message is timely and necessary.

Wisdom and experience teach us to not be placated by the spoken word, rather to look for concrete actions. The coming days will no doubt put these words to the test.

Zainab Chaudry is a Maryland native. She is the co-founder and a representative of the Maryland chapter of CAIR, the nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization. She can be reached at zchaudry@cair.com.

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