The Marin Community Foundation is joining with several other Bay Area foundations to foster greater dialogue and collaboration among American Muslims and non-Muslims by distributing $230,000 in grant money.
The Bay Area foundations are following a model created by One Nation Foundation, a philanthropic collaborative founded by George F. Russell Jr. of Tacoma, Wash., creator of the Russell 2000 stock index. Russell launched One Nation after seeing an increase in negative and prejudicial attitudes toward American Muslims after 9/11. In 2009, One Nation announced a $3.5 million initiative that enlisted contributions from foundations in New York, Chicago and other cities across the United States.
The Marin Community Foundation has contributed $50,000 to the One Nation Bay collaborative, which includes the San Francisco Foundation, Silicon Valley Community Foundation and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy. Two grants of $10,000 each have gone to the International Association of Sufism in Novato and the Marin Interfaith Council in San Rafael.
According to recent estimates, the American Muslim community in the Bay Area includes nearly 250,000 people and an estimated 58 mosques, with the heaviest concentrations in Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco counties. Together they represent one of the largest Muslim communities in the United States.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted in September 2010 showed that 49 percent of Americans held an unfavorable view of Islam, a significant increase from 39 percent in October 2002.
“The candid fact of the matter is that for many members of the Muslim community, this has been a really hard time for them in America,” said Marin Community Foundation CEO Thomas Peters. “The acts and voices of prejudice have been explicit. So we’re trying to reach out a hand of friendship, neighborliness and reassurance that we are a community that welcomes these Muslim Americans.”
Nahid Angha, co-director of the International Association of Sufism, said she would use her $10,000 grant to support roundtable discussions among Muslim and non-Muslim students at Dominican University in San Rafael. Angha said the discussions would probably include music and food, elements that facilitate friendly interaction.
Angha said understanding among younger people of different religions and cultures is already growing due to their use of the Internet.
“We are beginning to learn more about each other,” Angha said. “That has been a very educational contribution.”
The Rev. Carol Hovis, executive director of the Marin Interfaith Council, said her organization’s grant will help underwrite its ongoing work with the International Association of Sufism and the Islamic Center of Mill Valley. In May, the council will host a panel of Muslim speakers as part of an educational series that will also include Judaism and Buddhism. And later this year, the council will sponsor a lunch for clergymen to discuss the surveillance of the Muslim community by law enforcement.
“It is important for the religious community to stand with other communities that are feeling pressure, no matter what the issue might be,” Hovis said.
The Bay Area foundations’ effort to improve relations between Muslims and non-Muslims was applauded by imams at two of Marin’s mosques.
“What I’ve noticed is the more educated people are and the more they know about different religions, the more tolerant they are and the better they interact with Muslims and people of other backgrounds,” said Imam Mufti Abdullah Nan, one of two imams at the Islamic Center of Mill Valley.
Imam Mehdi Khorasani, of the Center for Peace and Compassion in Fairfax, said, “We are one nation. We have to put away the war, put away the misunderstanding and live together in this short time that we are living in this paradise, America, the best country of the world.”