Organizers of the “Spread Hummus Not Hate” rally at American University were true to their word Thursday and served plastic container after plastic container of hummus as part of an effort to counter what they described as an increase in bigoted rhetoric and hate crimes.
A couple hundred AU students and members of local faith groups attended the rally, which was held Oct. 20 on the central quad of the AU campus.
“Today it’s Muslims, tomorrow it’s anti-Semitism… It’s an unending sequence,” Akbar Ahmed, chair of Islamic Studies at American University, said during his remarks onstage.
“Therefore you have to say, enough, enough, enough,” he continued. “Here is the red line and we’re not going to allow it to be crossed.”
The rally was also the last stop of an annual bus tour in which 12 members of Greater Washington Muslim-Jewish Forum spent the day handing out hummus and pita at synagogues, mosques, public parks and college campuses to promote tolerance and solidarity.
Walter Ruby, who is the Muslim-Jewish program director at the New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and helped to organize the bus tour and rally, said with tension on college campuses between the two groups over the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, the AU event was significant. “I hope this will be a harbinger for things to come.”
Sophomore Alana Kessler, who helped organize the event as a member of Hillel, said that it’s important to “build bridges” between the Muslim and Jewish communities on campus.
“This is about knowing that the Islamic community is also a huge part of our family,” she said. “Our two communities will only be stronger if we come together.”
Bakhtawar Mirjat, a sophomore who leads two Muslim groups on campus, said that sometimes the AU campus can feel siloed.
“We coexist fine on campus, but I think coexisting is just the base,” she said. “I think that not only do we have to tolerate each other, but we have to come together and love each other.
“We see a lot of hate speech targeted towards both Muslim and Jewish community members and we can’t let that happen,” she added. “We need to stand together as minorities and speak out against it.”
At one point in the rally, Rabbi Batya Steinlauf of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington spoke on stage with Robert Marro, a board member in the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling.
Steinlauf emphasized that both the Jewish and Muslim traditions share the belief that all humanity is descended from the same person, and Marro put the rally into historical context and added some levity to the event.
“I doubt if any of the founding fathers ever had any conception of what hummus was,” he said. “But if they tried it, I’m sure they’d all be in favor of spreading hummus and not hate.”