I enjoyed a very pleasant afternoon the other day attending an open house at the Muslim Community Center of Chicago. Their mosque is enormous, and it was packed. Around 1,000 people participated, which was about double what they expected. I went with a bunch of friends from my church. We immediately lost track of each other in the crowd.
I grazed my way through the snack buffet (try the onion pakora) then headed into the prayer hall for their presentation. The program was hosted by a brilliant young woman, a high school senior. She introduced the President of their congregation, who merely mentioned, “So last night I was watching SNL–” and the place went totally up-for-grabs. I don’t even remember what the tie-in was. He remarked it was the 75th anniversary of the Presidential Executive Order to inter Japanese Americans, and he wondered if he was watching history repeat itself. “But looking out at this assembly of guests, most of you white, most of you Christians, I know that this history will not repeat itself.” We gave him a lengthy standing ovation.
He summarized the history of the mosque. Another fellow summarized the history, tenets and practices of Islam. When he got to the parts where Muslims and Christians do not see eye-to-eye, he simply stated, “With respect to our Christian guests, Muslims believe…” That worked for me. I learned a lot.
In the van on the way home, I discovered that all of my church-mates had earlier, independently decided, as my wife and I had, that if the government ever requires U.S. citizens to register themselves by religion, we are all prepared to register as Muslims. A lady in the front seat wondered if we might one day hide Muslims the way our grandparents in Europe had hidden Jews. From the back seat I remarked “We will not hide the Muslims! We will rally with the Muslims in Grant Park, by the millions, and dare their opponents to come for us.”
So I felt that, for me, meeting personally with a community I was somewhat unfamiliar with was an enlightening and helpful experience. If there’s a community in your town that you are feeling a little skittish about, I encourage you to keep a lookout for an open house. Or grab a friend and just invite yourself over and ask to get acquainted. You might learn something new, meet a new friend — and maybe discover a new snack.