Crackerjack activist and executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, Linda Sarsour has been an admirer of Pope Francis’s magnanimity towards those outside the Catholic Church since he was elevated into the position in 2013.
Now, Sarsour hopes that having many different faiths stand together at a wall that remains from the original World Trade Center may help reverse the narrative of Islam as inherently violent.
On August 30 Sarsour announced her invitation in a tweet, “In late September I will get the chance to be in the presence of the @Pontifex and I am grateful and ecstatic.” She was the first New York leader to publically declare her invitation to the multi-religious prayer service.
On the morning of Friday, September 25th, Pope Francis will visit the 9/11 Memorial in downtown Manhattan as part of his first pontifical visit to the United States. Inside the Memorial Museum, the Pope will hold “A Witness to Peace: a multi-religious gathering with Pope Francis” that will involve local religious clergy standing with him as he prays for global peace. Leaders will then offer meditations according to their religious traditions.
Though born and raised in Brooklyn and affected by 9/11 both as a New Yorker and as a Muslim, Sarsour points out that this will only be her second visit to the Memorial. When she visited the museum shortly after it opened, she left feeling deeply disconcerted. She recalls how “uncomfortable” she was wearing her hijab among the other museum goers as they she watched the exhibit’s short video “The Rise of Al Qaeda.”
A Muslim critic like Sarsour says that the video fails to distinguish between radical Islam and Muslims as a whole. The narration lumped all Muslims into the same boat which suggested that any Muslim is likely to commit violent acts in the name of Islam.
“If you don’t understand about the 1.7 billion Muslims in the world, radical Islam has no context,” Sarsour laments. Although most Muslims are not planning or supporting terrorism, the video had “a clear story being told: Muslims kill people.”
Sarsour’s energy starts to rise as she talks about the need to solidify the acceptance of Muslims in New York City. She hopes to discover a kindred spirit in Pope Francis at the Memorial.
“I’m not Time magazine,” laughs Sarsour, “but [Pope Francis] is one of the most influential people in the world.” If Pope Francis calls his audience to reconsider their perspective of Muslims, that violent narrative may change on a global scale.