I learned a lot about Islam –and biases I didn’t know I had

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I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous the first time I visited the Concord mosque.

It was a pleasant October afternoon, a Friday, and I attended the prayer service at the Islamic Society of Greater Concord to find out what Muslims thought of the 2016 presidential election.

I planned my outfit that day carefully – long sleeves and pants to cover up – and I asked the mosque president, Hubert Mask, if I should put something over my head. He said there was no need.

After parking outside the East Concord Community Center, I took a deep breath, straightened the scarf around my neck and went inside.

It was relatively empty five minutes before Jum’ah prayers began at 1 p.m., so I took off my shoes where I saw a few others lined up and went looking for Mask. He greeted me with a handshake and showed me into the prayer room downstairs, where his wife, Faizah, offered me a chair to observe from.

Several more women trickled in and took their place on the small prayer rugs angled towards Mecca. The Arabic recitations were unfamiliar to me – I tried to figure out the pattern in which the women stood up, got down on their knees, and then, in the posture so commonly associated with Islam, put their foreheads to the ground, their stocking feet poking out beneath them.

I perked up once the imam began his service, which was delivered in English. I heard ideas familiar to the ones expressed in my own church on Sunday: keeping patience through tribulation and responding to challenges with faith and peace.

They seemed particularly comforting as America navigated its way through the last month of an extremely divisive, anxiety-inducing election.

It wasn’t until the weekend after Nov. 8 that I returned to the mosque. I covered an anti-Trump protest earlier in the day, and after standing in the middle of protesters and counter-protesters shouting at each other over my head in downtown Manchester, the mosque was an oasis of quiet and warmth.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE CONCORD MONITOR 

Va. mosque sees outpouring of support as state fights Trump travel ban

mcauliffemosque5Ashburn resident Amr Said came to the All Dulles Area Muslim Society mosque in Sterling to pray on Friday, seeking to restore his spirit a week after the unveiling of a Trump administration ban on travel that is keeping hundreds of fellow Muslims from entering the United States.

As he walked up the center stairs amid scores of other immigrants, Said, 35, saw a crowd of about 100 people holding signs that read “We are here for you” and “You belong.”

Inside, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Mark R. Herring delivered essentially the same message. Herring had come from the federal courthouse in Alexandria, where a judge agreed earlier Friday to move forward with a lawsuit seeking an injunction against the executive order that put the travel ban in place.

“We are here to send a message to President Trump that we will not stand by and allow his unlawful, unconstitutional and morally repugnant executive order,” McAuliffe, like Herring a Democrat, bellowed to the cheering worshipers after they had finished the midday prayers.

His remarks, and the demonstration outside, filled Said with hope. “It makes a lot of difference, a lot of difference,” said Said, a software engineer who is originally from Egypt and who shook hands with several of the sign holders while exiting the mosque. “I feel that [the ban] is not going to continue if everyone speaks up.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE WASHINGTON POST 

Christians And Jews Team Up To Help Muslims After Texas Mosque Fire

mosqueChristians and Jews in a small Texas town reached out to help their Muslim neighbors after a fire destroyed a local mosque.

“Jewish community members walked into my home and gave me a key to the synagogue,” Dr. Shahid Hashmi, a cofounder of the Victoria Islamic Center, told The New York Times.

In addition, at least four churches offered space for the Muslims to hold their services.

Victoria is a small city about 125 miles southwest of Houston with a population of about 65,000.

Everyone knows everybody,” Robert Loeb, the president of the town’s Temple B’Nai Israel, told Forward. “I know several members of the mosque, and we felt for them.”

On Wednesday, children from a local Catholic school marched to the mosque to form what the Islamic Center called “a human chain of love and peace.”

They are literally our neighbors,” Gretchen Boyle, an English teacher at St. Joseph High School, told the Victoria Advocate. “We are responding to the call, ‘Love thy neighbor.’”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE HUFFINGTON POST 

More than 200 at interfaith forum hear update on Islamic Center blaze (Texas)

newsengin-17440728_dyc-islamic-center-03Investigators offered new details Sunday about the investigation of the blaze that leveled the partially constructed Islamic Center of Lake Travis in Hudson Bend last weekend. The fire harmed no one but has left the area’s Muslim community on edge.

The update on the investigation, which authorities described as an around-the-clock affair, came during an afternoon interfaith forum hosted by a nearby church. The event sought to promote greater understanding and dialogue between Christians, Muslims and Jews.

“We’re truly after the truth at the end of the day, regardless of what that truth is; that’s what we owe to you in the community,” Travis County Fire Marshal Tony Callaway said.

The investigation is ongoing, Callaway frequently noted, limiting what he could tell the crowd of more than 200 people at the forum. The official cause of the blaze remains undetermined.

RELATED: Fire destroys partly built Islamic center near Lake Travis

However, Callaway told the audience that his office has sent nearly a dozen pieces of evidence to the lab for testing, is reviewing security tape footage and is interviewing potential witnesses.

FULL ARTICLE FROM MY STATESMAN (AUSTIN, TEXAS) 

Meeting Islam in Interfaith Friendships

amazon-christmas-1024x768In 1993 my husband George Dardess began visiting our local Islamic Center: first to learn Arabic so that he could read the Qur’an, then cementing friendships with his teacher there and with the imam. So when the events of September 11, 2001 hit, George was in a position to join with members of the Center in presenting programs on Islam to the public.

Our Islamic Center’s brave response to 9/11 was to open itself to the larger community—to invite Christians and others to learn about Islam, to observe the communal prayers, to ask questions. At the programs George, as a Christian, would dialogue with a Muslim on a topic like Jesus in the Qur’an, or Mary in the Qur’an, or the real meaning of jihad.

I accompanied George to the programs, which were often preceded by a potluck dinner, and it’s there that I met my first Muslim friend, Yasmin.

Yasmin would sit with me to introduce her friends. In the mosque’s small dining area (exactly like a church basement where dinners are held), the men and women sat at different tables. Though I’m a feminist, I actually enjoyed this segregation. We women could talk about juggling jobs and kids, or about the best public schools, or where to buy shoes.

Yasmin, an immigrant from Bangladesh, was then teaching chemistry at our local university. Her husband, also Bangladeshi, was an engineer. I was struck by Yasmin’s beautiful flowing clothes, her hijab always matching them. Later I learned that she made all her clothes.

Soon Yasmin left teaching to open a dress shop selling clothes she had made—in both Western and Muslim styles. Of course I went there one day to shop. What a surprise when she opened the door—and there she was hijab-less, her long hair lovely on her shoulders! That’s how I learned that Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab don’t wear it at home with their own family or when they’re just with other women.

Yasmin told me that she’d only recently decided to wear a hijab in public. “It’s for modesty,” she said, “and also to celebrate my Muslim identity.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM PATHEOS.COM

Muslims And Christians Unite To Win Backing For New Jersey Mosque

computer-rendered-plans-for-the-4250-square-foot-islamic-mosqueMuslims have won a lawsuit granting them the right to build a mosque in a town in New Jersey.

Unusually, they had the backing of influential evangelical Christians including Southern Baptists.

District Judge Michael A Shipp ruled in favour of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge and against the township of Bernards, The Christian Post reports.

Planners in Bernards rejected the mosque application in 2015.

Judge Shipp ruled this to be a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act which codifies some “narrow” exceptions such as a nondiscrimination provision.

Shipp said the planning refusal constituted “impermissible discrimination on the basis of religion”.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CHRISTIAN TODAY

 

 

Historic Bridgeport Church to Become Mosque

BRIDGEPORT, Conn.—One of the oldest Christian congregations in this community said it would sell its historic church to a regional Islamic center.

The United Congregational Church said Monday it plans to sell its brick Georgian-Revival style church, built in the 1920s, to the Bridgeport Islamic Community Center for $1 million.

The two groups will also form a partnership to provide community programs including a soup kitchen and a homeless shelter from the site of the current church.

bn-rb957_nybrid_m_20161205165020In recent years, more Muslim communities across the U.S. have begun to engage in the types of fundraisers and social-service projects that Christian congregations and Jewish synagogues often host or organize, said David Grafton, professor of Islamic studies and Christian-Muslim relations at Hartford Seminary in Hartford.

“As the national landscape has become much more suspicious of Muslims, and as Islamophobia has become more common, Muslim communities have consciously engaged in the process to normalize—or become part of the religious landscape of organizing into voluntary associations that form the bedrock of American civil and religious life,” he said.

The lineage of the United Congregational Church dates back to colonial days. It was first established in 1695 and called the Ecclesiastical Society of Stratfield. It later merged in 1916 with another congregation to form the United Congregational Church. Rev. Sara Smith said the Bridgeport church had 3,000 members when the main structure was built, but the numbers have now dwindled to 300. She said it made financial sense for the congregation to look for a new home.

The United Congregational Church will be renting space in another part of Bridgeport until it finds a new space to buy, Rev. Smith said. “We are not dying, we are just moving,” she said.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE WALL STREET JOURNAL