This past week our city, the Holy City, made international news again as a presidential candidate proposed that our nation bar all Muslims from entering for a time. This in a city that from the very beginning was an open and welcoming place for all faiths—Catholics, Huguenots, Baptists, Jews, and yes even Muslims were all welcomed to Charleston! It is that freedom that has allowed a vibrant religious conversation to take root.
Too often we stay within our little ghettos. The Catholics play with the Catholics; the Protestants sometime play with he Protestants; the Baptist play with the Baptist that are like them. Every now and then, when there is a tragedy like the one we experienced when Mother Emanuel was attacked, we might play together. But normally…
The result is a level of suspicion and fear is allowed to take root. Because we don’t know each other we can fall victim to the rumors and untruths that swirl around. “You know Catholics pray to Mary.” “You know Baptists don’t dance or drink, and handle snakes!” “You know Muslims are all terrorists!”
Add that to our Charlestonian desire to be mannerly, to do things correctly, to not offend, to never make a cultural faux pas—then it is easy to understand why we stay on our side of the rivers, within our faith, within our church, within our own kind. The result is that we never really know. We are guided by our fears. We stay estranged and divided from each other.
In the aftermath of this week, the Central Mosque of Charleston had a open house on Saturday, inviting the community to come and meet and learn. It was a courageous move on their part. they didn’t know how the community would react. They didn’t know how many would come.
I went with my own set of fears. I had never been to a mosque before. How am I suppose to dress? What do I do? What is I am the only one there? (I now understand the courage it takes someone to come to our church every week!) Plus, to be honest, it is not in the greatest location. It is located at 1082 King Street, far from the where Second Sundy on King will take place! But because I am Baptists and believe deeply in freedom of religion, I went. What I discovered was wonderful!
We were greeted warmly by members of the mosque—who cover 29 different countries! Clear instructions and assistance was given. The only problem was that there weren’t enough chairs! What a wonderful problem to have! Many just sat on the floor as Iman Issa led us through a wonderful introduction to Islam, dispelling many of the rumors that we often hear.
Now I know that there are many who will choose to believe what they hear in the media, from friends and neighbors who know absolutely nothing about Islam, or who have had one bad experience. I am hoping that I am not judged by what people assume or have experienced of a Baptist minister!
I am not converting to Islam. I am a Christian by choice and it is through that lens that I see the world and choose to interpret the world. But that doesn’t mean that I cannot learn from my Muslim cousins. (Someone raised a question about that. Abraham had two sons—Ishmael and Isaac. Jews and Christians trace our lineage back through Isaac; Muslims trace their lineage back through Ishmael. Both go back to Father Abraham. That makes us religious cousins!)
That doesn’t mean that we cannot work together, to minister together, to build community together. We do that across denominational lines. We do it across faith lines. Perhaps it is time to do it across family lines as well.
I encourage you go visit the Central Mosque of Charleston. I am sure you will receive a warm welcome. The members are doctors and professors and teachers and children—just like us! They are a part of our community. They want to join us in making this truly a Holy City! I hope we can do that—together!