As Americans across the nation bowed their heads Saturday in remembrance of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks nine years ago, Central Coast residents of diverse faiths assembled in solidarity at the San Luis Obispo Mosque of Nasreen.
Some local leaders hope the gathering of more than 100 people will spark a larger movement to look beyond anti-Islamic bigotry and anger surfacing throughout the country.
“We meet today on a somber and heavy day — our hearts are pressed together under the weight of 3,000 souls who passed away on this day nine years ago,” said Rushdi Abdul Cader, a local emergency physician and Muslim who organized the event.
People belonging to Catholic, Jewish, Protestant and Muslim congregations stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a courtyard outside the mosque. During a moment of silence, friends, neighbors and strangers gathered close in thought and prayer for what was lost nine years ago and for what people still find precious in their lives.
Paul Wolff, a local architect and professor emeritus at Cal Poly, recalled having stones thrown at him by his German friends when he was 9 years old and fleeing for his life in Nazi Germany.
“I was no longer Paul,” he said. “I was a Jew.”
Wolff said that people must unite to build bridges of tolerance and fight against apathy to prevent such tragedies as the Holocaust from happening again.
“The climate is ripe for bigotry and racism today,” Wolff said. “This is our chance to unite and build sturdy bridges of tolerance, and our Muslim community is creating a foundation for this.”
Proposal to ‘ALERTUS’
Abdul Cader is organizing religious communities across the state to launch a neighborhood watch program he intends to spread nationally.
The program, known as ALERTUS — the Alliance with Law Enforcement for the Reporting of Threats within the United States — is meant to protect faith communities and society in general from attacks by bigots and extremists.
The program aims to foster mutual support between faith communities and law enforcement; provide streamlined reporting mechanisms; promote a positive image of law enforcement within faith communities; oppose defamation of faith communities within law enforcement; and encourage faith communities to be inhospitable to radicalization and violence.
“There is a lot of bias, and inflammatory statements are being made in other parts of the country,” Abdul Cader said. “This is our way of saying that when one of us is attacked, we will stand up.”
Abdul Cader, who is promoting the program to Muslim leaders throughout California, hopes that it will spread nationwide within the year.
“It may be starting as a very humble pursuit in little San Luis Obispo, but I’ve learned that what one person begins can make things better,” Abdul Cader said.
He and his wife, Nisha, started the first charity medical clinic in the United States founded by Muslims in South Central Los Angeles in the early 1990s.
“This country is boiling with anger, rage and malice and people are feeding off of it,” he said. “It is now that we have to light a candle, instead of cursing the darkness.”
Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.