I am very pleased to report that on Monday, September 12, we had a very informative and lively presentation on Islam by Imam Mohamed-Umer Esmail of the Nueces Street Mosque, which is just two blocks from our church. Approximately 60 people attended, including about 10 from the Mosque. Imam Esmail’s talk covered a lot of territory, from the basic five pillars of Islam to why Muslims dress the way they do and what Sharia Law is all about. The audience listened attentively for 45 minutes. Then the Muslims broke for their evening prayers (prayer five times a day is one of the main aspects or “pillars” of Islam) while the rest of us took a break for snacks and to socialize. After this Imam Mohamed-Umer answered questions that we had written on cards during the break. There were questions about Muslim theology, the role of women, Muslim dress, and proper interactions between Muslims and non-Muslims. On the whole it was very informative, and all who attended got a lot out of it.
This evening reminded me in some ways of way back in the early 1980’s when I was pastor of St. Andrew’s parish in Clemson, SC, and we participated in the Irish Children’s Summer Program (see www.columbiaicsp.org). Children from the Belfast area of Northern Ireland came to spend several weeks in South Carolina. Protestant children were hosted by Catholic families, and Catholic children were hosted by Protestant families. Every Sunday the host family would bring the child to their respective church for worship. They also had many activities scheduled. One of the more interesting was a trip to the local police station. For the Catholic children in particular, the idea that the policeman could not only be safe, but even friendly and helpful, was often quite a shock. And of course the bond would grow between the host family and the family of the child back in Belfast. Working through the children, families of different denominations could grow to know and appreciate each other. It was very elemental, but effective, peace-building.
Likewise, the event we had here hosting the local Muslim Imam was a simple, basic, but effective effort at building understanding, trust and peace. Peace is something we all want; something we all need. But peace – which is much more than the mere absence of conflict – is not something that just happens on its own. Peace requires effort. Peace must be built. It is constructed on justice, on knowing our neighbors, on frank and respectful dialogue, on respecting one another and ultimately on working together to solve the common problems we all face: the economy, the environment, our society. I am very happy and proud therefore to see the St. Austin Parish community participating in the effort to build peace.