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Learning about Islam and Connecting with our Muslim Neighbors

Learning about Islam and Connecting with our Muslim Neighbors

Katherine Beeler shares her thoughts about our newly formed working group on learning about Islam and connecting with our Muslim neighbors:

Here’s what I know about Islam:

  1. What I learned in my (surprisingly informative, in retrospect) sixth grade social studies class on world religions.
  2. What I learned during a brief period of interest in college, brought on by discovering that I could order a free Quran on the internet. Mostly, I read the introductory material and used the index to look up all the parts about Jesus. A tattered Post-it used as a bookmark tells me I made it to page 14.
  3. The bits and pieces I’ve picked up from news articles and blog posts, the occasional political conversation, and comments made in my largely Christian or non-religious circle of acquaintances.

It isn’t much. I feel like I should know more, given that the faith is central to the lives of Muslim neighbors locally and globally. And while I might say the same about other religions (or any other set of human experiences unfamiliar to me), this one seems especially important because of the fear of Islam that has been woven into American politics for as long as my 28-year-old self can remember and certainly well before that. As a Christian, it’s important to me that we, as a community, stand against anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence, not just hypothetically, but in practice. As proclaimed in the Lutheran Basics class on Sunday, we are a community of inclusive grace. God calls us to extend welcome and love, especially to those who have been marginalized.

At last weekend’s Synod Assembly, Pastors Joanne and Kari introduced a resolution to “encourage congregations to seek greater understanding of the situation of Muslims in America, especially in Washington state; and to speak out against Islamophobia and actions which denigrate people because of their faith or ethnicity; and to take action to robustly welcome the full participation of Muslims in our communities and society.

The resolution passed by a huge margin. There is interest.

Over the past few weeks, people at Gethsemane have suggested several forms our action could take: offering support to Muslim immigrants and refugees as they navigate life in a new place, building friendships through participation in holiday celebrations and social events, hosting guest speakers, engaging in the conversation around the proposed Mukilteo mosque project, and finding ways to collaborate with local mosques and other Muslim organizations.

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, I think it’s vital that we spend time really listening to Muslims in our community. What have they experienced? What are their hopes? Their values? Their concerns? What would a successful partnership between Muslims and Christians look like in their view?

We also need to start educating ourselves about Islam and about current issues facing Muslims in our area, not as a substitute for face-to-face conversations, but as a foundation for them. Let’s make use of the resources available to us rather than expecting local Muslims to do all the work of informally teaching Islam 101 again and again. When we do talk with people locally, I want to be able to ask thoughtful questions and have some context for the experiences and ideas shared.

Here’s a step we can take: HarvardX is offering a free online class on “Islam Through Its Scriptures”, taught by Dr. Ali Asani, Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures at Harvard University. No prior knowledge of Islam is needed. The course runs for four weeks, beginning June 1, and is an opportunity to “learn about the Quran, the central sacred text of Islam, through an exploration of the rich diversity of roles and interpretations in Muslim societies” through multimedia lessons and online discussion. We’ll also meet twice at Gethsemane to talk about what we’ve been learning and how our learning might lead into further action. I hope you’ll join in!

If you are interested in taking the class on Islam through HarvardX, you can register here. We will also be hosting discussion groups at Gethsemane on Tuesday, June 14th at 7:00 pm and on a date TBA in July! If you have any questions, feel free to talk with Pastor Joanne or Katherine!

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