They came wearing every color and costume. They prayed in a number of languages and a dozen faiths. Then, members of the diverse group—from Buddhists to Sikhs to Muslims to Christians and more—walked silently to the intersection of King Street and Market Street in the heart of historic Leesburg and held a 20-minute candlelight vigil as rush-hour traffic passed by in the dark, damp night.
The event, organized by Loudoun Interfaith BRIDGES and called “Witnessing Our Faith in One Another,” was intended “to raise a voice of love and neighborly regard, that counters the faith prejudice and racial prejudice of anti-Muslim rhetoric. ” It was one of a number of recent events in Loudoun pushing back against an anti-Muslim sentiment in the country.
Before the vigil, participants gathered at Leesburg Presbyterian Church, where faith leaders from a variety of faiths offered prayers in their various traditions. Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) came home to Loudoun to speak and participate in the event.
“We in Virginia are heirs to a legacy of religious freedom and mutual respect,” Herring said. “My office in Richmond is just a few blocks away from where Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom was signed into law,” referring to the 1786 law that guaranteed freedom of religion in the commonwealth five years before the 1791 ratification of the First Amendment.
“This is truly the American spirit,” said Rizwan Jaka, chairman of the board of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling, one of the largest mosques in the country. “This is truly the American citizen.”
Jaka pointed out that 40 percent of arrests of would-be terrorists come from tips from the Muslim community, and only 6 percent of terrorist attacks are from “people claiming to be Muslim.”
“We stand together that this is our country, and no one—no one—will take away our rights, and no one—no one—will make us fear in any way,” Jaka said from the church pulpit.
Rev. Anya Sammler-Michael of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Sterling challenged the two public officials present—Herring and Hamilton Town Councilman Craig Green—to publicly reaffirm their commitments to stand against prejudice, guarantee equal protection under the law, and stand with integrity for their constituents against political pressures.
“We will,” they said.
“God has told us in the Quran that if you take a life, it is as if you have taken the life of all of humanity,” Jaka said. “And if you save a life, it’s as if you have saved the life of all humanity. Here, this congregation, this fellowship, is saving all of humanity.”