My Muslim friend Ali and my Christian commitment to his life of faith

How American hostility toward Muslims has shaped my pastoral vocation

011520faithmattersDuring Sunday worship 13 years ago, my district minister invited me to the front to bless me in my first pastoral calling. I stood with her, looking at all the faces of church members and community friends, side by side, snug in the pews. She asked, “Will you seek to be faithful in prayer, in setting forth the scriptures, and in seeking the good of this congregation?” As I said yes I glanced around the room, my eyes meeting those of my friends—people who weren’t members of the church but had come together to support me, to affirm my calling.

With my yes I made a commitment to this whole gathering, church members and others. They embodied, for an hour, a mestizaje of lives from different traditions, to borrow a concept from mujerista theologians. That congregation was an amalgamated body, a hybrid of people rooted in various communities. For my identity as a minister, the line between the church and the world has been permeable from the beginning, a calling to a congregation of mixed constitution.

Among the gathered body that day was my friend Ali. Over the years he had visited our Mennonite community for Sunday worship and I had joined his Muslim community for Friday prayers. Our communal singing captivated him; their embodied reverence mesmerized me. Once I went with him to Eid al-Fitr, the service at the end of Ramadan where Muslims come together for their salat, their worshipful devotion. That year they gathered in the main arena at the state fairgrounds. We took off our shoes and added them to the endless lines along the walls. With his prayer rug tucked under his arm, Ali walked me to the chairs for non-Muslim guests before he weaved his way through men sitting cross-legged on their mats. I watched him roll out his rug, lift his hands to his ears, drop his arms to his side, then reach his arms to hold each other across his chest. He and the others stood in silence, waiting for the imam to lead the first takbir, the invitation to call upon God.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CHRISTIAN CENTURY 

Kuala Lumpur Summit: Five major issues facing Muslim world

Leaders from some of the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nations set to address issues like Islamophobia, poverty.

8640640e438d4a4d9b7181c2d155a779_18Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Leaders from some of the world’s most populous Muslim-majority countries are set to meet in Malaysia‘s capital on Thursday to address issues such as Islamophobia and poverty, with the organisers insisting the event is not meant to rival the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad will preside over the meeting with fellow heads of state, President Hassan Rouhani of Iran and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is also expected to attend.

According to the organisers, at least 250 foreign representatives from 52 countries and 150 Malaysian delegates will also join the KL Summit. They include government officials, scholars and leaders from various non-government sectors.

But there are also notable absences, including the leaders of Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

According to the Karachi-based Business Recorder, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan cancelled his trip after a visit to Saudi Arabia over the weekend.

On Tuesday, Kuala Lumpur-based news website Malaysiakini reported that Khan had called Mahathir to apologise for his absence. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi will attend instead.

FULL ARTICLE FROM AL JAZEERA

Controversial anti-Islam speaker attracts twice the crowd in Willmar(Minnesota) with protest and prayer vigil outside

110819.n.wct.BookClub1.0058WILLMAR — Usama Dakdok’s first visit to Willmar was a quiet and private affair last month, but his second visit was anything but that.

Two very different crowds gathered Thursday evening at the Kennedy Elementary School, where the Egyptian-born pastor of the Straight Way of Grace Ministry came to deliver his message that Islam is dangerous. It’s a message he’s been delivering to communities in Minnesota and other states for more than a decade.

Outside the school, well over 200 people joined under the message “we are better together” to celebrate Willmar for its cultural diversity. The diverse crowd, including many from Willmar’s Somali community, came in opposition to Dakdok, but focused on their message: Willmar is an inclusive and welcoming community.

The Rev. Dane Skilbred, Vinje Lutheran Church of Willmar, and Aden Hassan, imam for the Islamic Society of Willmar, joined in celebrating the city’s “welcoming resolution” in a formal address to the crowd. An interfaith group including leaders from ISAIAH, a coalition of faith communities, and the Islamic Society of Willmar helped organize the gathering as a prayer vigil.

Some who joined the event felt moved to grab the megaphone and offer their own words to celebrate the community.

“We are here for the right reason,” said Bonnie Hauser, semi-retired after serving as an elementary instructor in the Willmar Schools. Hauser told the audience that she was proud to be a Willmar teacher, where children of different ethnic and faith backgrounds learn together.

“This is what I know my community could be,” said Jessica Rohloff, a lifelong Willmar resident and a community organizer.

Najib Aqib, a member of Willmar’s Somali community, didn’t grab the megaphone, but he was among those who joined to support the prayer vigil. He said he moved to Willmar in 2005 and has found it to be a very welcoming community, and that is why he came to the event.

“This is the best place to live,” he told the West Central Tribune.

FULL ARTICLE AND VIDEO FROM WEST CENTRAL TRIBUNE

In pictures: Thousands march in Paris against Islamophobia

FRANCE-SOCIAL-RELIGION-ISLAM-POLITICS-DEMOMore than 10,000 people marched against Islamophobia north of Paris. But the rally drew criticism from both the government and the far right.

It was called following last month’s attack on a mosque in the southern French city of Bayonne by an 84-year-old man, a former far-right activist, who shot and wounded two men.

Many of the protesters carried placards denouncing attacks on Islam, a number of women taking part wore traditional Muslim veils, while others had adopted veils bearing the blue, white and red colours of the French flag.

Around 13,500 people attended the march, according to a count carried out by the Occurence consultancy and commissioned by the news media, including AFP.

The march was called by a number of individuals and organizations, including the Collective against Islamophobia in France (CCIF).

It also came as the debate over the veil has been revived in France and against a background of several jihadist attacks in France in recent years.

“We came to sound the alarm, to say there is a level of hate you don’t go beyond,” one marcher, Larbi, a 35-year-old businessman, told AFP.

“We are open to criticism, but you mustn’t go beyond certain limits of aggression,” he added.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE LOCAL (FRANCE)

Preaching ‘hate’ for Islam, speaker arrives in a divided Willmar

Organizers plan to protest an appearance Thursday from Usama Dakdok, who has visited Minnesota dozens of times to convince his audience that Islam is dangerous.

e0e678-20161024-antiislam12John Burns had been living in Willmar, Minn., for some time, but one interaction in particular stands out. An acquaintance wanted to recruit him to a group that has been warning others about the dangers of Islam and the infiltration of Muslims into their west-central Minnesota community.

But Burns, 75, was the wrong guy. He’s been voicing concerns against anti-Islamic sentiments in the town, which is home to a growing Somali American population. He’s written letters to the editor, spoken at city council meetings and called every media outlet he could think of.

“These people often have the enthusiasm of somebody who’s just discovered a new religion that explains everything,” Burns said of a local group that bills itself as a patriotic Christian organization. “At some point it turns into fanaticism, and that’s troubling.”

The group, called “Thee Book Club,” has rented an auditorium Thursday evening at Kennedy Elementary School in Willmar to host a controversial speaker who’s made his mark across Minnesota and beyond trying to convince attendees that Islam is a dangerous cult.

Usama Dakdok, a Christian who grew up in Egypt, visited northern Minnesota more than 20 times from 2015 to 2016, often speaking to rural communities with small or no Muslim populations. He’s back in Minnesota this week to address crowds in the communities of Backus and Willmar, where he’s spoken at least once before. He’s also taken his anti-Islam message to Rochester and St. Cloud and across the country.

FULL ARTICLE FROM MPR NEWS 

Netflix’s ‘Ghosts of Sugar Land’ explores friendship, Islam, and religious extremism

GhostLandStill1The emboldening of bigotry and hatred is just one of the toxic facets that the current president of the United States campaigns upon. One of the targets of this hate is the Muslim community. From his earlier days of attempting to “slander” Barack Obama by claiming he was secretly Muslim, to his “Muslim ban” of 2017, Donald Trump has used this community to play upon fear and xenophobia. The new Netflix documentary Ghosts of Sugar Land briefly attempts to explore the ramifications of an anti-Muslim atmosphere through an intimate lens of friendship, personal faith, and extremism in the town of Sugar Land, Texas. The results are mixed, but provide impactful moments to inspire conversation.

Directed and co-written by independent filmmaker Bassam Tariq (These Birds Walk), with co-writer Thomas Niles (Phantom Cowboys) the short documentary provides testimony of a group of suburban Muslims from the town of Sugar Land as they attempt to reconcile the disappearance of a close friend and the consequences of his actions. Their friend, given the codename Mark in the film, is Warren Christopher Clark. Clark is a young Black man and childhood friend of the group who, in 2018, would go on to travel to Syria to join the extremist organization Islamic State (ISIS). Clark would eventually be captured by U.S.-backed forces in Syria and forced to face charges of terrorism. The film was produced shortly before Clark’s capture.

FULL ARTICLE FROM PEOPLES’ WORLD 

A Muslim and a Christian take a Muslim Roadshow to rural Washington

Story by Lilly A. Fowler | Photos by Matt M. McKnight

McKnight_MuslimRoadShow_31They’re not the sort of couple one is likely to encounter in many parts of the country: a hijab-wearing Muslim woman with a Harvard law degree and a white Lutheran pastor. Yet dozens of Washington state residents — in urban centers and in small rural towns — have witnessed Aneelah Afzali and Rev. Terry Kyllo preach together in churches. Turns out, Afzali and Kyllo have one profound thing in common: a passion to fight against Islamophobia.

Although the duo has held an event in Seattle, Afzali and Kyllo have generally reserved their sermons for smaller, more conservative towns filled with voters who support President Donald Trump and who may have never personally met a Muslim. Towns like Mt. Vernon, with a population of 35,000. Situated just 60 miles north of Seattle, Mt. Vernon is the largest city in Skagit County. In last year’s presidential election, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by fewer than 2,000 votes in the county.

On a recent Monday evening in Mt. Vernon, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Afzali addressed a small crowd. She was dressed in a purple suit and hijab, and she was flanked by American flags and a Christian cross. As wind and rain pounded the chapel’s windows, she shared what had inspired her and Kyllo to organize the talks, which they’ve dubbed the “Faith Over Fear Roadshow.”

“I am so extremely bothered by what I see happening around us today, the growing divisiveness, polarization, hate and even violence,” Afzali said.

FULL ARTICLE FROM FEATURES CROSS CUT