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.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE DALLAS NEWS

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Reformed Christianity and Islam in Dialogue at Texas Presbyterian Church

5b930e0234936.imageA Waco Christian church will open its main worship service to a dialogue with members from Waco’s Islamic Center in a three-Sunday series starting this Sunday intended to increase interfaith understanding.

The series at First Presbyterian Church of Waco, 1100 Austin Ave., which carries the somewhat dry title “Reformed Christianity and Islam in Dialogue,” has a warmer, more human intent: finding where the two faiths find common ground and where they differ, not through an exchange of lectures, but in conversation.

The Rev. Leslie King, senior pastor at First Presbyterian, said the conversations, held during the church’s 10:30 a.m. worship service and open to the public, are meant to broaden understanding of both faiths. She hopes that will foster a greater sense of community in Waco while giving members a sharper awareness of what makes their faith distinctive.

That is best done in contact over time, hence the three Sundays with a potluck dinner following church the first two Sundays.

“Any religion cannot be understood in a sound bite,” King said.

The two-person dialogues will take place during the sermon time in Sunday worship, with leaders discussing topics including belief in God, prayer and expressions of one’s faith, with members’ questions worked in. King and associate pastor Dee Dee Carson will be sharing with Islamic Center of Waco President Al Siddiq, his son Bilal and center member David Oualaalou.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE WACO TRIBUNE-HERALD 

Texas Man Found Guilty Of Hate Crime For Burning Mosque

mosque-rebuild-aa052964077e259defdb641448063bba291890c6-s800-c85A federal jury has found Marq Vincent Perez, 26, guilty of a hate crime in the arson attack on a mosque in Victoria, Texas, in January 2017. Perez, who is set to be sentenced in October, faces up to 40 years in prison.

When fire devastated the Victoria Islamic Center last year, an outpouring of support followed, with neighboring Jewish and Christian congregations offering to host Muslim services in their buildings.

“Hate crimes are not only an attack on a specific victim, they threaten the cornerstone of diversity that America was built upon,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Perrye K. Turner said of the case, according to a Justice Department release. “Perpetrators of hate crimes, like Perez, aim to chip away at our nation’s foundations by instilling fear into entire communities with violence.”

More than $1.1 million was donated to help rebuild the mosque, with the bulk of that money coming just days after the blaze. The mosque’s congregants were also embraced by the small Texas city, as the community held rallies and prayer vigils to reject hate.

According to recent postings on its Facebook page, the mosque has been nearly rebuilt and the new facade around the main entrance includes granite display blocks from the original building.

“Our hearts are filled with gratitude for the tremendous support we’ve received,” wrote Omar Rachid, who attends the mosque, on the fundraising campaign’s webpage. “The outpouring of love, kind words, hugs, helping hands and the financial contributions are examples of the true American Spirit and Humanity at its best with donations coming in from all over the world.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM NPR 

Interfaith solidarity rising in Texas

Muslim_Sorority_TTI spoke at a public library event promoting interfaith awareness in 2012. It didn’t go well.

To be exact, the questions from the audience didn’t go well. I made introductory remarks about my religious tradition, but then the questions started pouring in from people who showed up to the session angry. The questions morphed into angry rants about Sharia and Jihad. Our mosque’s interfaith team tried its best to answer the antagonistic questioners. Nothing helped put out the fires already raging in their minds.

They came seeking validation. No lecture, event or research could change their minds.

I encounter this mindset frequently when talking with Americans of other religious backgrounds. I’m the cause of their problems, say these fellow Americans who have closed their minds to new information. The only source of trusted information, in their mind, is Fox News.

Imagine my surprise when a recent interfaith event went quite differently.

Last month, the Islamic Center of Frisco hosted our annual Interfaith Ramadan Iftar. Of the 150 Texans who joined us, approximately 90 were not Muslim. The overwhelming majority had never attended an iftar — an after-sunset dinner during Ramadan — nor stepped inside a mosque before. A wide cross-section of community leaders attended, including representatives of non-profit organizations and local school districts. Even a few of our elected leaders showed up. All accepted this invitation to learn and break bread and the fast with their Muslim neighbors. It was an evening of warmth, love and eventual understanding as they learned about Ramadan. Attendees expressed fascination at how their Muslim neighbors fast for 18 hours without food or drink.

We then had the question and answer session. Someone asked about Sharia law. A sudden wave of anxiety flooded my senses. Our mosque’s scholar explained Sharia so beautifully and ended by saying that politically, Americans are made to fear Sharia. Sharia is not political. Sharia is just the set of guidelines Muslims use to live by (ie. how to fast, how to give charity, etc.). The gentleman, surprisingly, was truly grateful for this clarification. After the call to prayer, which signifies the breaking of the fast, those of us who are Muslim prayed and then headed to dinner.

While we were serving our guests, the common response was that we need to eat because we’ve been fasting for so long. During fasting and even after, you attain this level of spirituality in which your body craves all that is good for your soul. Islam teaches us to give utmost respect and hospitality to guests — a concept with which they were not familiar.

FULL ARTICLE FROM TRIBTALK

Don’t Mess With This Muslim From Texas—He Just Got Elected!

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Something truly wonderful happened in Texas on Saturday night. In between a rodeo championship in Fort Worth, a country music festival in Austin and people honky tonkin’ from Amarillo to San Antonio, history was being made in the mid-size city of Euless, Texas.

In this north Texas city that boasts a population of a little over 50,000, the good people there elected the first minority ever to the Euless City Council. And not only that, the person they elected by a 37-vote margin was both a Muslim and a Pakistani immigrant by the name of Salman Bhojani.

A Muslim immigrant winning an election in Trump’s America, where he’s made anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant bigotry a cornerstone of his campaign, is truly inspiring—especially in a red state like Texas. While Bhojani was subject to anti-Muslim attacks during the campaign, his win truly represents a victory of American values over Trump’s un-American views.

But this wasn’t an easy win for Bhojani, who possesses all the qualifications of someone who should easily win a local race. He’s a Boy Scout leader, a family man, has served on the city’s parks board for four years and is a lawyer practicing in the area. If he were Christian and white, I bet the GOP would’ve loved to recruit Bhojani.

But he’s not. Bhojani is a brown, Muslim Pakistani immigrant who came to America in 1999. And while the election was non-partisan, that didn’t stop a Republican state representative—who was not even a candidate in the race—from trying to gin up anti-Muslim animus. So there was Texas representative and Trump wannabe Jonathan Strickland doing his best to scare local voters about the dangers of a Muslim American seeking elected office.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE DAILY BEAST

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)