Breaking bread with a Imam

Several weeks ago I heard of a meeting to be held at the Warrenton Community Center [organized by the Virginia Strategic Security Group] to inform us about the dangers of ISIS in particular and Muslims in general. What followed was a forty-five minute diatribe, innuendos, and known falsehoods all presented as the gospel truth.

There were power point slides linking every known Muslim group with every other known group that purports to want do away with “our American Way,” never clearly defined. I think generally it was the last gasp of a way in which old white men generally determined what was best for all which generally excluded anyone who was different . . . determined by color, origin and religion.

“The times they are a-changin,” and this group has a hard time letting go. The evening was a little scary in that the Fauquier County police were represented by five stalwarts, including the sheriff. Was this a known troublemaking group? Or, were their positions so outrageous, that trouble was usually expected? They are labeled as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The presentation mercifully ended and questions were allowed — well, sort of. About a third of the group was repulsed and astonished by the views expressed. We were vocal in our condemnation. However, no reasoned argument was allowed by the speaker. Presentations were interrupted, or shouted over drowning out the questioner. The Imam of the Manassas Mosque was not allowed to explain the real meaning of Shari’a or Jihad. He was barely allowed to speak. Others were treated in the same manner, rudely, intemperately. The evening was not a great example of civil discourse.

I spoke to the Imam afterwards. A few of his family and friends came, some with head scarves. I had time to give him my card. Not sure what I expected . . . I simply wanted to thank them all for coming, for exhibiting bravery and steadfastness in the face of hate and fear.

Then a week ago, the Imam called to invite me to a gathering at the Mosque this evening (Saturday, Feb. 11). A gentle and welcoming man, he took the five non-Muslims under his wing to show the Mosque — the tile work, the beautiful rugs, the library of scholarly works, where Islam fits into the panoply of Hebrew/Muslim/Christian religions.

We sat around the room in stocking feet and listened to an excerpt sung from the Koran, which then became the basis for an explanation of its meaning . . . much the way an excerpt from a psalm may be used as a springboard for a discussion/sermon/explanation of the meanings contained therein.

After that, a microphone was handed around and we were all encouraged to speak our truths — why we were there, what impelled us to come; what in our lives had influenced us, why we came together from such different backgrounds to find once again, that our needs are the needs of all humans regardless of creed, race, persuasion, background or place.

At the end we shook hands and we broke bread together. A wonderful mixture of regional cooking — eggplant with veal and tomatoes, pilaf with chicken, salad with a cucumber dressing, breads, and more, ending with cookies, the quintessential brownies and coffee.

Sharing stories, in good faith and love, all over a spread of food from the represented nationalities . . . there is universality, satisfaction, learning, and love in that.

There is a lot of fear in the land just now. There is fear in the Islamic community as there has been and still is in other communities in our country. Is this how we want to be known as a country? Can we only feel secure when we demonize another race or religion? Or are we better than that? If we are a Christian nation then perhaps it is time to heed the scriptures and act as though we are Christian in thought and deed, and I would suggest as a number of communities already do, over food.

Nol Putnam
Flint Hill, Va.

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1 Comment

  1. “Breaking Bread with a Imam” was a wonderful exploration of truth and point of view in this fearful time of trying to make sense of people who are different from ourselves. We all need to settle into a peaceful mode of looking for how we are similar.

    Glad you had the courage to print this.

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