On Monday evening, the larger Phoenix community responded to last week’s hateful anti-Islam biker protest. Hundreds of supporters showed their love by attending a prayer rally at the targeted mosque.

The purpose of the event was to promote love, peace, and inclusiveness. Dozens of groups — both religious and not — combined their efforts to organize the gathering on Facebook. Their simple message to the community was:

“We ask that you bring a FLOWER as a symbol of love and care. We are better together, and together we are strong.”

The biker rally on March 29th, called the Freedom of Speech Rally II, was organized by now-discredited opportunist, Jon Ritzheimer. By contrast, Ritzheimer’s gang of bikers was encouraged to bring guns to their event. Last Friday’s protest (and a counter-protest) was held outside of the Islamic Community Center during evening prayers, so as to best intimidate worshipers.

According to Ritzheimer, he organized the protest in reaction to the attack in Garland, Texas by suspected terrorists. The attack happened during a “Draw Muhammed” contest designed to fan the flames of anti-Islam sentiment in a state renowned for intolerance.

Since so many of us are dying to express ourselves by drawing Muhammed in order to instigate acts of violence, Ritzheimer figured ‘freedom of speech’ should be the theme. Another “Draw Muhammed” contest was supposed to be featured in Phoenix, but it … uh … sort of petered out.

As has become apparent, Ritzheimer was motivated by a more venal, self-serving reason than protection of his civil rights. After last week, he made an effort to coerce other haters into giving him $10,000,000. You can read about his con here.

But the man and his hatred are no longer the center of the story. That’s been taken over by love.

Every faith in the Phoenix valley was represented at the prayer rally on Monday night. Among the sponsors were the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Arizona, Arizona Interfaith Movement and the Anti-Defamation League. Reverend Erin Tamayo of Arizona Faith Network said:

“There’s been a lot of effort to divide the faith community and set us apart from one another and we want to demonstrate a strong message of togetherness.”

Participants lined the windowsills with bouquets in an outward expression of that togetherness. Local Muslim leaders were overwhelmed and grateful. Usama Shami, president of the Islamic Community Center, said:

“What this shows is that these bigots are the exception. This hate is the exception. A lot of people don’t have the same faith, but when it comes to the freedom to worship, the faith community as a whole stands shoulder to shoulder.”

Imam Mahmoud Sulaiman told the assembled crowd:

“You made goodness victorious. Thank you.”

Azra Hussain, president of the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Arizona, was equally moved by the people gathered before him. He told them:

“I never envisioned this. The outpouring of love these past few days has been an inspiration to me.”

So does love conquer all? It sure goes a long way, as shown by @imraansiddiqi:

Congratulations, Phoenix, for showing what we all should be made of!

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