After two people of Muslim faith fatally shot 14 people in San Bernardino early this month, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump called for a "total and complete shutdown" of Muslims entering the United States.
Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., meanwhile, stated that his students should be allowed to carry concealed weapons to "end those Muslims before they walked in."
At panels on Thursday, religious scholars at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley responded with their own message, condemning "the bigotry and hate-mongering vilifying and marginalizing our Muslim colleagues, leaders and their communities." They invited Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Baptist leaders to speak out at the GTU against what they called "Islamophobia."
"If it's a white guy doing something, the shooting is usually framed as gun violence," said Munir Jiwa, director of the GTU Center for Islamic Studies, speaking on an "In Solidarity Against Islamophobia" panel at the GTU chapel.
"When it's a Muslim doing it, (the media portrays it) in the framework of terrorism," he said. "Terrorism is attached to Islam and Muslims."
Muslims are frequently asked why they don't denounce terrorism, he said, but that question is "based on the assumption that we are for terrorism."
Panelist Rita Sherma, director for Dharma Studies at GTU, said one ought to go beyond simple "tolerance" of Muslims, in addressing anti-Islam attitudes.
Rather, she said, empathy is key. As a person of Hindu faith, she said she understands how minority religions are considered exotic or foreign in the United States and therefore "worthy of suspicion."
Center for GTU Jewish Studies Director Naomi Seidman said Jews, like Muslims and Hindus, are often seen as "outsiders." She said Martin Luther King Jr. was also an outsider.
"It's outsiders that make America what it should be and what it could be," she said. "This is a moment we should think about claiming America and not ceding America" to people inhospitable to those unlike themselves.
The Rev. James Hopkins, chairman of the American Baptist Seminary of the West and pastor at Lakeshore Baptist Church in Oakland, shared a letter his congregation wrote to the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California in response to the statements by Trump and Falwell.
It pledged "to build bridges between strangers and ourselves and by example encourage others to do the same; to refuse to keep silent when we see others speaking ill of strangers, judging them without coming to know them or when we see them being excluded, wronged or oppressed."
An audience member asked whether it would be a good idea for non-Muslim women to wear headscarves in solidarity with Muslim women. The male Muslim panelists said that would be a question for their Muslim sisters.
Imam Zaid Shakir, co-founder of Zaytuna College, the first Muslim liberal arts college in the United States, offered a project allies could take up: Responding to Wheaton College, a Christian liberal arts college in Illinois that recently suspended a tenured professor who donned a hijab to show solidarity with Muslims and asserted that Christians and Muslims share the same God.
Jiwa also said it is important not to have a litmus test for "good" and "bad" Muslims, that part of being an ally is not agreeing on everything, but respectfully disagreeing on some issues.