I am better for having the Jewish friends I have made since moving to Texas from the Middle East

fbd1ad48522fa7e93f1e54649736c224I migrated to America from the Middle East more than 26 years ago. A Muslim woman by birth, I became American by choice. Having been raised in a culture dominated by political conflicts between Arabs and Jews, I never imagined back then that one day I would actually have a comfortable dialog with a Jewish person, and I certainly never expected to become friends with one. The mercy and grace of God had a different plan for me, one that helped me grow as a person, a citizen, as well as a believer.

My first encounter with a Jewish person started through a Texas based interfaith group, Daughters of Abraham, where women from the three Abrahamic faiths (Jewish, Christian and Muslim) come together. We meet monthly while alternating among our three places of worship. We drink coffee and hot tea and eat lots of snacks while having a dialog about our shared spiritual heritages and experiences. This fills our spirits with love and gratitude.



A Priest, a Rabbi, and an Imam Walk Into a Church in Dallas

interfaith-panel-2-677x451Amid a vexed political and social climate, three religious leaders in North Texas—a priest, an imam, and a rabbi—proved it’s possible to come together in times of division. The Rev. Dr. Chris Girata, Imam Omar Suleiman, and Rabbi David Stern gathered at Saint Michael and All Angels Church in Dallas last Thursday to discuss where their respective faiths diverge, and where they unite. The panel discussion, presented by the Women of Saint Michael and moderated by the Rev. Amy Heller, drew in people of all backgrounds.

The three panelists, who talked like old pals, helped facilitate a light-hearted environment. As religious leaders they have met before on more somber occasions. Suleiman and Stern, for example, both spoke at a vigil at Thanks-Giving Square following the shooting of Dallas police officers in July 2016. It was refreshing to see these men converse candidly, in more relaxed circumstances. The solidarity shown by the priest, imam, and rabbi enlightened and inspired many of the hundreds of people gathered at the church.

Sandra Klingeman, who has belonged to an interfaith group for a number of years and attended the discussion, said she has heard the three leaders speak before, and knew they were among the best faces of each of their religions.

“I think I learned more about their relationship with each other and their sense of humor about this,” Kingeman said. “Because, you know, I don’t know all of the details of Islam or Judaism but I have friends in all of them.”


Islamophobia hurts all Americans

1473202248-ncc_09muslin4Just as our nation accepts its 10,000th Syrian refugee, calls to ban future Muslims from entering the country have reached a fevered pitch. In recent weeks, the patriotism of an American Muslim soldier has been called into question without cause; a New York-based imam and his associate were murdered and a county commissioner in Georgia temporarily blocked the construction of a new mosque.

Thankfully, Americans of all political and religious backgrounds are pushing back, which is good news as we mark 15 years since a group of Muslim terrorists attacked the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001.

Many Americans understand that that hatred of Muslims is an assault on American ideals. We’ve spent our lives working in different spheres — one of us is an evangelical Christian pastor, the other a retired U.S. Marine general — but we’ve both seen firsthand how Islamophobia diminishes us all and weakens our country.

Of course, Muslims are the primary victims of Islamophobia, which prevents them from exercising their basic rights, including their right to religious freedom. It also threatens their lives. Violence against Muslims spikes after high-profile incidents of terrorism, and a recent Georgetown University report found that an upsurge has coincided with the presidential race. Between March 2015 and March 2016, 12 American Muslims were murdered in bias-motivated attacks.

Yet Islamophobia isn’t a Muslim issue. It is an issue for anyone who cares about the United States and the values that undergird it.

This shouldn’t need to be said, but lies have gained so much traction that we feel we need to: terrorist groups represent a miniscule fraction of Muslims worldwide, who are, after all, both the primary victims and primary opponents of the Islamic State and Al Qaeda. According to the FBI, the vast majority of terrorist attacks in the United States are committed by non-Muslims. Terrorists speak for Muslims no more than the Ku Klux Klan speaks for Christians.

Nearly all Muslims are part of the American mainstream. More than 5,000 Muslims are in the U.S. military, and thousands more serve their country in other ways, as teachers, doctors, lawyers, social workers and public officials.


‘If we were not brothers before this, we certainly are brothers now,’ a Dallas imam tells a minister

The minister and the imam had known each other barely a year.

They had met at a vigil after the mass shooting at a Charleston, S.C., church in June 2015. They had encountered each other at rallies to protest gun violence and domestic violence, to memorialize a long-ago lynching, to counter a Ku Klux Klan rally, to remember victims of the Orlando attack.

“We’ve had to come together so many times because of tragedy and heartbreak,” said the Rev. Michael Waters, pastor of the Joy Tabernacle A.M.E. Church.

As the first shots rang out Thursday evening in downtown Dallas, tragedy and heartbreak again brought them together. Waters spotted Imam Omar Suleiman in the crowd near the intersection of Market and Commerce streets, and together they fled what had quickly become a war zone.

The two men, along with Waters’s wife and several parishioners, sprinted to the nearby Omni Hotel. Waters, in a clergy collar and a T-shirt that read “Hope Dealer,” soon flagged down the driver of a Ford Excursion and offered him all of the cash in his wallet to take the group back to his church in South Dallas.


Dallas church’s sermon offers dangerous distortions of Islam

signA reader emailed me with a basic “Muslims bad” message. And I replied that a few certainly are, but more than a billion live in peace every day.

He countered: That’s not what my preacher says. And he sent a link to the Aug. 24 sermon in a large Bible church in Dallas.

To my dismay, a preacher I have known and admired spent about five minutes running down all of Islam. He began: “One of the biggest lies in the world today, that’s being told over and over again, to where you are almost uninvited to social events if you don’t parrot this lie, and the lie is that Islam is a peaceful religion.”

He went on: “It’s getting harder and harder to defend that statement as Islamist militants around the world are crucifying Christians, beheading their children, burying people alive.”

He talked about the beheading of journalist James Foley and relayed what he said was the message of the Islamic State: “We will not stop until we quench our thirst for your blood.”

“Let me ask you this,” he said. “If Islam is such a peaceful religion, why is there no outcry from any Muslim leaders over the beheading of this journalist?”

I took the sermon to another local pastor who is a respected authority on Islam. Robert Hunt is a professor at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology and author of numerous books on both Christianity and Islam.

I’m not naming the other pastor because Hunt wasn’t interested in a personal smackdown. But he was eager to take on the blatant distortion in equating the atrocities of the Islamic State with all of Islam.

He had two quick points to start: “One, this isn’t happening with Muslims all over the world,” he said. “And, two, what actually is happening with Muslims all over the world is universal condemnation of ISIS.”