Wearing t-shirts that read, Today I am a Muslim too, twenty of us piled into the United Church of Christ’s bus to head to our local mosque. When we disembarked, three times our number were already there. People of all denominations and ethnicities were gathered on that cold December night for the same purpose: To show solidarity with Muslims, defending their right to worship as they are called to do.
While Muslims prayed inside the mosque, we stood outside with candles and sang a hymn written by the mission’s organizer that included the refrain, You’re never alone because we stand beside you. We were then invited to join the worshipers, leaving our shoes at the door. The mosque was strikingly bare with no statues, paintings, or furniture; no “false gods before” them. The men prayed up front, women in the back, heads covered – admittedly ruffling my feminist spirit.
The imam spoke in Arabic, the sound disarming with its harsh consonants coupled with our inability to comprehend the foreign tongue. A tongue showcased by the media as radical and violent.
We stood in the back as worshipers bowed prostrate to their God. Our God.
After the prayers, we were invited into the worship area. The imam explained that we’d been asked to remove our shoes so that the area would remain clean for God; typically, we’d also have been asked to wash our hands to be pure for God. He explained that the worship area was stark so nothing would distract worshipers from focusing their attention on God.
He told us the prayers recited were about “the beautiful story of Jesus and Mary” – that Muslims also commemorate the birth of Jesus this time of year. There was at least one audible gasp in the group, reflecting our collective ignorance of the Muslim faith.
As the imam spoke, children ran around, playing games, and laughing. Muslims love their children too, a parody of Sting’s song about Russians, went through my head. We were hugged and photographed in appreciation. We laughed, cried, and broke bread together.
The imam expressed gratitude for support received since bullying and hate crimes against Muslims are on the rise. When asked if they have an outreach plan to teach other religious, educational, and civic organizations about their faith, he said they’re a humble people who don’t want to push themselves on others. But they’d be delighted to explain their beliefs when invited to do so.
It’s important to understand the basic precepts of a religion before condemning those who practice it. If the Roman Catholic Church were to be judged solely by the Crusades, the Inquisitions, witch hunts, Nazi-collusion, Timothy McVeigh, or bombings of Planned Parenthood centers, it would be judged as one of the most dangerous and violent religions. As Pope Francis said in August of this year, “There is always a small group of extremists in practically every religion. We have them too.”
In Jesus’ day, there was violent hostility between Jews and Samaritans. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus exhorted followers to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” When asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus told the story of the Samaritan who had stopped to care for a Jewish man who’d been beaten, while others – even the most holy – had walked on by. Jesus answered that the neighbor was “the one who had mercy on him.” Then Jesus instructed, in his native Aramaic tongue, “Go and do likewise.”
If you are a school leader, member of a religious or civic organization, invite the imam of your local mosque to speak about the Muslim religion. They are our neighbors; they deserve mercy.
Patricia A. Nugent