Like much of Greater Patchogue, Long Island, I saw the conversations about Muslims, Islam, immigration and refugees increase dramatically after Donald Trump make his comments about not allowing Muslims into America “until we figure out what the hell is going on.”
I was puzzled by this, as were many people.
How could the Ambassadors of various countries attend the United Nations under such laws? How could it be that a Muslim physician in America who goes to London to attend his mother’s funeral not be allowed back into the country where he has a medical practice, family and community?
But the problems I had with Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric was coupled with my belief that it would ultimately be a good thing that we were speaking openly about our fears and convictions.
That was not the beginning of my interest and involvement with Muslims.
It began when I was living in Florida and accepted an invitation to visit a mosque where a bullet hole, fired from the weapon of a drive-by shooter, during a worship service, was still lodged in the outside wall. I learned in the subsequent 10 years of interfaith relations with Muslims that the vast majority of Muslim-Americans are peaceful, purposeful and patriotic.
It is unfortunate that the entirety of Islam is being held accountable for the acts of a few who appear to be mass mis-interpreters of the Koran. But that seems to be where we are at.
I have been to many iftars (the meal eaten by Muslims after sunset during Ramadan). I have heard many speeches in mosques at interfaith events. I have eaten baklava and mango mousse at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for an Interfaith Center. I have met many imams and received gifts of books and pamphlets about Islam signed by their authors. I have written extensively and preached passionately about anti-Muslim sentiment, terrorism, injustice, immigration and assimilation, and Syrian refugees.
And so it is not as a fearful, removed observer of recent events; but as a friend and supporter of Islam that I say it is time for Muslims to venture forth their mosques and for Christians to venture forth from their churches and to do an even better job of getting their message of peace to the American people, who are bombarded by photos and media soundbites of terrorist acts perpetrated by those claiming to be devout Muslims.
Fear, suspicion and terror are not intellectual experiences. Press releases, editorials and email blasts from peaceful Muslims are no substitute for human interactions; especially when such attempts at communication are routinely ignored by the press whose commonly-known industry mantra is, “If it bleeds, it leads.”
Muslims could benefit greatly by approaching Christian churches and doing such things as helping to prepare and serve a meal at a soup kitchen. Reading about Muslims in a newspaper is very different than cutting carrots with Muslims.
Several years ago in Florida, for example, Ramadan and Thanksgiving fell very close together (Ramadan is a lunar holiday the date of which, therefore, fluctuates). The local mosque prepared 35 Thanksgiving food baskets and personally distributed them to impoverished veterans the names of whom they received from the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). Muslims wrote and delivered personalized Christmas and Chanukah greeting cards to local churches, synagogues and fellowships.
Churches here in Greater Patchogue, for their part, could do such things as to invite Muslims to come to church to hear and discuss a sermon or presentation on the Biblical story of Hagar and Ishmael. The Muslim representatives who attended could then present their way of interpreting the same story. Breaking bread and sharing stories is a more effective means of communication than merely exchanging emails.
For some understandable reasons, Muslims and Christians might find it difficult or even fear it might be dangerous to approach each other’s institutions and fellowships of faith. But terror can only truly win if we let in invade and occupy our mind and spirit.
So let’s roll up our sleeves, not to fight, but to form a fire bucket brigade to slow and cool the lava flow of hatred and prejudice that is approaching the front door of our houses of worship. Now is the time for peaceful, prophetic and courageous action.
“Do [with] others, as you would have others do [with] you.”
Dwight Lee Wolter is author of several books and pastor of the Congregational Church of Patchogue. For more information on Adopt-a-Mosque, visit adopt-a-mosque.org.
stock photo courtesy Hamed Saber/Creative Commons