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