Yes, you read that right.
No, I’m not talking about Terry Jones from Monty Python.
I am thanking Pastor Terry Jones of Gainesville, FL who came up with the horrendous plan of burning copies of the Qur’an on September 11 as a protest against the Park 51 project.
It starts with a Florida pastor blind with rage and ends with me being blessed to join a Muslim community for Eid al-Fitur.
On Thursday in the midst of a very hectic and random day at the church, we three priests and a friend from the United Church were talking about the media frenzy around this obscure pastor and his inflammatory (no pun intended) plans. Wouldn’t it be nice if the media focussed on a Christian community that believed in the right for all people of faith to have a place to worship? These kinds of questions are dangerous on my team, a team of ENFPs.
Within 3 hours, using up cell-phone minutes, broadband and connecting across neighbourhoods and faiths, we had a table organized at our local farmer’s market for Saturday, September 11, where we would distribute copies of the Qur’an and ask people to sign a peace wall with messages of peace and reconciliation.
In the midst of the afternoon, I put a call into the Noor Cultural Centre, a large Islamic centre in Toronto, to let them know what we were doing and to seek some advice on appropriate actions we could take. The administrator told me that everyone who could answer my questions was taking the afternoon off to prepare their homes for Eid. “Of course,” she said brightly, “You could always come for Eid and meet everyone tomorrow.”
I have had lots of experience with cross-cultural experiences, but I have to be honest, invitations to a festival or event in another culture I am NOT familiar with scares me. Thanks to my first cross-cultural experience in high school (I’ll tell you the story another time. I’ll just say a classmate made an error that sent our guest from another culture into a shouting frenzy.), I am terrified of making a mistake, having that mistake pointed out, and having to leave in shame. Particularly coming from PEI, with six registered Jewish families and probably a similar number of Muslim families. My inter-faith dialogue count = zilch!
And so, with the little bit I learned from Wikipedia and a very helpful reminder from our interfaith chaplain and parish warden to bring a head covering, I hit the train and bus on my way to Don Mills and Eglinton.
I stood in a doorway of a very crowded room while the community prayed. A lovely thing happens when you observe a Muslim community praying. You see everyone standing and praying. Then, everyone kneels and prays. Then, the adults prostrate themselves, and all these children pop up! Of course, they have been standing the whole time, you just get to see them when the adults are bent over. The kids immediately start looking around, because now they can see!
When it came time for the sermon by Imam Timothy, a row of women squeezed a little tighter so I could sit and join them. His sermon was powerful and enlightening. He preached on a beautiful passage (forgive me for not having a reference. I am unfamiliar with the Qur’an. If you know it please leave it in the comments below) about the Lord being the Lord of light and our hope in the midst of darkness. He reminded us that God pulls us up from the darkness into the light, and never the other way around. We draw each other into darkness. He reminded us that now, in the midst of the fear the community feels as September 11 looms closer, we are called not to violence, but to educate and seek common knowledge. As he expressed the reaction of his community to the actions of Terry Jones, I hung my head in shame. I was then encouraged and lifted up as he shared messages of solidarity from faith groups around the world.
After the service I managed to carve out a space in the crowd to meet the president and imam. They were heartened and encouraged by our plans, and invited us to further dialogue and celebration. It was an Eid Sa’eed indeed!
So, Pastor Jones, thank you.
- Thank you for opening my eyes to the very real and frightening side of the Islamophobia that is slithering into North American culture
- Thank you for firing up the creative juices of my team. The more we work together on projects we are passionate about the better team we become, and better pastors to our people
- Thank you for opening a door for me to engage my youth in a dialogue about faith and justice
- Thank you for starting a chain of events that brought me to my first Eid. I am very grateful for today and it is all thanks to you
Terry Jones, Salaam alaikum.