Have you ever watched the DVD series "The Jesus Fatwah: Love Your Muslim Neighbor"? Well, thanks to Carol Custodio, participants of the Lunch & Learn committee were able to see this incredibly enlightening program. This series broke "the weed-like disinformation rooted in stereotype and watered by fear" about Islam.
It was during this Lunch & Learn time of reflection that a new conversation arose, "Lets invite the Talent Mosque here for a potluck"?
This conversation was reinforced when the committee and ministry chairs got together to discuss "2016: The Year of Justice." We asked the Rev. Paula if she could make contact there and set up an invite.
It turned out that they preferred that we join them for a potluck. They have a potluck every second Saturday at 5 p.m. They asked that there be no more than 20 people as they have limited space and that we bring vegetarian dishes to share.
An invitation was extended to the committee/ministry chairs and the members of Lunch & Learn.
We ended up with 13 of us convening there on Saturday, Feb. 13. Half of us parked on one side of the building and, not knowing that the others were parked elsewhere, we stood in the parking lot waiting, conversing about the death of Justice Scalia. Suddenly, a door opened and a man came out and with a grin on his face said "What are you guys doing? Looks like a heavy conversation."
We all began to laugh. "No," I said "We're just waiting for the rest of us." He shook each of our hands and motioned for us to come inside. His son stood at his side. "He is already bored," he said, "and is going to get a book," he laughed.
We entered through a back hallway where we removed our shoes. We then turned a corner to the left where tables were set up and set our dishes down. Then a turn to the right and there was the other half of us! Paula was among them and a gentleman asked her to explain to us what had just been explained to her. She explained "Many people may have already washed for prayers, so men will only be able to shake men's hands and women women's hands or they will have to go through the washing ritual all over again and we are waiting until sundown to begin prayers."
"It is all right," a tall, handsome man, originally from Somalia, spoke, "I have a story for you." He told us of his first arriving here from Somalia, but he arrived in New York City thinking it was the same as Ashland, Oregon. He entertained us with his humorous reflections. Jim Phillips and Lynn Ramey both knew him from Ashland Middle School. He is a fantastic storyteller and it was such a gift of welcome that he offered.
Other members of the mosque had been arriving during storytelling. Many women wearing hijabs arrived with plates of food. Mary, who is Paula's friend at the mosque, explained "that in 10 minutes it will be sundown and we pray at that precise time. If you do not wish to join us in prayer would you please squeeze to the back. But, you could join us, because you know, we all pray to the same God." I had a vision of a God looking down from the heavens and shaking his head in the affirmative, thinking "Finally, somebody's got it!"
The man who opened the door to us, the man that touched each of our hands so obviously he had to repeat the cleansing process out of graciousness to us, described for me the direction that Mecca is in and then I followed Laurie Carter into the separate room for the women. And we prayed together. And then we ate together. Oh, my there was so much food! And laughter. And comfort.
I realized that I probably talked the most with Laurie Carter, who is one of the people I have known the longest from UCC. This was the kind of magic of it all, our gracious hosts created such comfortable surrounding as if we were in each other's living rooms. And the children were such a big part of this celebration. Beautiful, healthy, joyfully loud children running in and out and everywhere!
At the very end the imam offered a Q&A segment. He encouraged questions. They really wanted to dispel any myths. We really didn't seem to have any. He said "We do have separate time for men to be with men and women to be with women, but we do not hide our women." I felt that any question of suppression was dissolved by the joy on every one's faces. They asked Paula to speak and she described the Lunch & Learn class learning about Islam and she furthered UCC's support.
As joyous a party as this was, make no mistake that we were invited into the sacred. They trusted us. They thanked us numerous times for our support. They mentioned a few times that UCC was an incredible contributor to making their mosque come to fruition. I said to the imam, " I think God is smiling tonight." He shook his head "Yes, I think so. We prayed together. We each prayed in our own language but we prayed together."
And to you all, I say, may this circle remain unbroken. We still are planning on hosting a potluck with the Mosque as our guests.
Wendy Wysong Leighton is a member of the Ashland First Congregational United Church of Christ, 717 Siskiyou Blvd, Ashland (www.uccashlandoregon.org).