“What can we do to help Muslims?”
This is the one question I am asked every time I do a book reading or give a talk on Islam.
I was in a church talking to an assembly of, oh maybe 70+ people.
“What can we do to help Muslims?” They asked.
“Get to know a Muslim. Make a Muslim friend.”
Seeing the look of interest, I pushed on. “Studies have shown that those who know a Muslim, are less likely to harbor negative feelings.”
I noticed the nods.
“Its one thing for your Priest or Rabbi to be talking to my Imam, but we need to take it a step further. Yes, it’s nice to meet in a church or synagogue – in a public setting in a crowd, but I would like you to invite me into your living room. And I would like to invite you to come to my apartment and lets chat over a meal. Come break fast with us in Ramadan, and we will fast on Lent or Yom Kippur and join you for dinner; lets pray together, and just plain hang out. Lets get to know one another up close, take a walk in the park, go see a movie together, and chat over a cup of coffee. Lets forge friendships—one-on-one, one person at a time.”
I didn’t realize what I was setting myself up for. I mean, I meant what I said, I believe in that concept. But here is what followed.
A minister’s wife was in the audience. After I finished doing my thing, she walked up to me.
“You have motivated me. I am going to pursue this,” she said.
Pursue what? I had forgotten half of what I had said during the Q&A.
“I love the idea of inviting Muslim families into our homes.”
“I am going to talk to our congregation.” She sounded excited.
On Sunday morning I started getting emails from people in the audience. They had my business cards and knew how to contact me.
“Can we meet for coffee?”
“Can you do lunch?”
My calendar filled up and by the end of the week, my caffeine level was off the charts. I was making friends and losing track of who was who, feverishly entering notes into my phone to remember who was the one who told me which story of what episode of her life. And I was loving it.
I had forgotten all about the minister’s wife. Do you blame me with all that coffee-ing and lunch-ing, and managing my out-of-control schedule! Then an email hit my inbox. At first I didn’t recognize the name. (I am terrible at remembering names and faces, and embarrass myself again and again). She had broached the idea with the church congregation; they loved it; ten families had already offered to host a Muslim family in their home; she had a tentative schedule; and wanted to hold a planning session. So Christian!
I mean, wow!
I need to set up a planning team;
I better line up 10 Muslim families;
What if they are not available?
Well they better be! I can’t just say, ‘invite us’ and then not accept the invitation.
And we need to clear our calendars and invite them back.
My calendar! And I am supposed to be a retiree.
I got on the phone to line up the 10 Muslim families.
“Hi, guess what! I made an offer you can’t refuse.”
Before I could finish my preamble, they had signed on.
Think of the potential: A Christian family who has never met a Muslim, will be inviting a Muslim family—total strangers—into their home for a meal. Hopefully they will like one another and accept a reverse invitation, and then, see where it takes them. Watch the tree branch out into fragrant blooms with sparkling hues.