After the recent terror attacks in Paris and San Bernadino, the spotlight has been put on Muslims, and not necessarily in a good way.
"Groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda, and those who dance to their tune, are determined to manipulate and exploit the true teachings of Islam to fulfill their agenda of terror and to wreak havoc through the world," said Abdur Rahman Bashir with the Jefferson Muslim Association. "They take text out of context, to indoctrinate and brainwash those who don't know any better. They are spreading the same hateful rhetoric and intolerance that is unfortunately dividing our country today."
Earlier this month, Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump, said Muslims should be banned from entering the United States. A statement that the East Jefferson Interfaith Clergy Association doesn't agree with.
"As people of faith, we differ from one another, but we also respect one another," said Rabbi Robert H. Loewy. "Islam and Muslims deserve our respect."
On Monday, the Association read a statement to the media which says in full:
"As religious leaders of Jefferson Parish and Greater New Orleans, we join our voices together to address anti-Muslim sentiments recently reported by the media. We condemn in the strongest terms any calls to deny all Muslims entry into the United States or to incite violence or harm against our Muslim family, friends, and neighbors. We affirm that all people are created in the image of God to be respected and beloved. Religious freedom is at the core of who we are as a nation. Religious tests should never be required for anyone looking to be a part of our community. Generations of immigrants have sought refuge from religious persecution on our shores; our union is strongest because of the diversity allowed by religious freedom. Any attacks on Muslims or any other religious ethnic group is an attack on every one of us and the principles of our relationship together. We invite leaders and all people of good will to join us in speaking out and standing up against such divisive rhetoric."
About 40 religious leaders from around the area signed the statement and verbally said they stand by it. Giving local Muslims hope the community will unite.
"This is not just a gesture of good faith, but a gesture of good citizenship as well," said Bashir. "As Muslims, we are a part of the beautiful mosaic we call the United States of America. We care for the security of this nation and citizens as much as anyone else."
Currently, more than 10,000 Muslims live in and around New Orleans. The East Jefferson Interfaith Clergy Association says now is the time to stand with and work together as one.
"We are educators, social workers, professionals," said Sara Al-Dahir. I have real faith that intelligence and compassion will probably win in the end. I continue to have faith in that."
Leaders say the actions taken by ISIS and Al Qaeda have portrayed Muslims in a bad way. They say learning more about their religion will help change that.
"Talk to us, learn about us and don't let hate and those who carry out terror in the name of God, define who we are and what we stand for," said Bashir. "We are together and we are united and we will work together against intolerance and work together to promote peace and security."
Many at Monday's event are hopeful it can be done.
"This is a time to build bridges and not burn them," said Bashir. "This is a time to hold hands and not push each other away."
Two open houses will be held by the Jefferson Muslim Association in January. Follow this link for more information.