This month has been difficult emotionally for many Americans, including myself. It started with the shooting in Washington DC of a congressman who was targeted for representing the Republican Party. On that same day, a shooter killed 3 workers at a UPS in San Francisco. With the acquittal of a police officer in the shooting of a black man stopped for a broken tail light, Minnesota was reminded that we have a long way to go when it comes to racial equality. It is easy to throw up our hands and believe that the world is becoming an increasingly nasty environment that will continue to sink lower in acts of hate and violence. But on the same day of the baseball shooting, I was invited to an event that reminded me that there can be a different path forward.
Friends from Tapestry, an interfaith women’s group that was originated in response to the bombings in Paris in late 2015 and the subsequent fear and hate of Muslims, invited me to an evening meal to break the fast of Ramadan. Each evening during the 30 days of Ramadan, a community of 250-300 Muslims gather at the local mosque to share a meal and prayers starting at sundown – that equates with 9 pm in June. The fasting starts at sunup, or 4 am, and involves abstaining from both water and food. Those that work outside the home may work a reduced schedule, but household chores never take a vacation. I think that most of us would have a difficult time following this schedule for one day, much less 30 days in a row. It is considered a time where self-control is practiced and submission to God is the focus.
As my husband and I entered the chaotic, noisy room where adults, teen and children were gathering to break the fast, it was obvious that we were outsiders both by our dress and skin color. While scanning the room for my friends, we were warmly greeted by complete strangers and welcomed to partake in both the meal and in the nightly prayers. A few chairs were set aside for us – my husband later went to the mens’ side of the room- and a bowl of dates was set on the table. Dates are the first food eaten to break the fast. Hearing the call to prayers, we followed everyone into the mosque worship space and observed as worshipers bowed and prostrated themselves on the floor in submission to God. Small children ran up and down the rows of bowed heads, snuggling beside parents or siblings when they finally came to rest on the floor. Then back into the larger room to share a delicious meal of middle eastern food cooked by a local restaurant. I had not eaten since noon and it was now 9:30 pm. Those around me who had been fasting since 4 am pushed me to the front of the line, insisting that their guest be the first to eat. I was humbled by their generosity and willingness to answer all of my questions and share their stories of practicing the Muslim faith within a predominately Christian culture.
What would be the reaction of your faith community if someone dressed in traditional middle eastern garb showed up for Christmas or Easter services at your house of worship? Would you escort them to a pew and sit beside them as you explained the nuances of your worship service? Would you introduce them to your friends and share conversation as well as coffee and doughnuts after the service. Would you share stories of your faith and ask them questions about their religion? Christianity is founded on love and acceptance. I think that most of us, myself included, have a long journey ahead to fully integrate this into our lives. And I think that other faiths or religions do a much better job than mainstream Christianity at welcoming outsiders.
The shooting of a congressman was carried out by one of our own “terrorists”. He was not Muslim or of Middle Eastern descent. He was Caucasian, born in America and had easy access to multiple rounds of ammunition and a gun. Just because I share his skin color, place of birth and religion does not make me feel responsible for his behavior. But if this same deranged individual had been Muslim, we would have blamed the larger Muslim community and labeled this as a “terrorist act”. Shouldn’t all hate crimes be labeled as terrorist since they are targeted against a specific group and randomly kill innocent victims simply because they are members of this group?
Muslims are my friends. They cook wonderful food, have interesting stories to tell and share a deep faith that I respect. I hope that they can understand that not all Caucasians fear them or hate their religion. What this world needs is for all of us to develop more empathy and rid ourselves of hate and fear of those who don’t look like us. Because often “others” are more similar to us than different.