3,000 Gather to Combat Fear and ‘Do the Work of Allah’ Amid Christian Protests
By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Nearly 3,000 people gathered on the west lawn of the Capitol on Friday for a mass Muslim prayer service that was part religion and part pep rally for the beleaguered U.S. Muslim community.
As faint shouts of “Repent!” from Christian protesters floated across the gathering, dozens of long rows of men in robes and white knit caps and women in head coverings prostrated themselves to God, gave praise and listened to sermons as part of the congregational prayer that occurs about noon Fridays.
“Stop being so scared!” thundered Imam Abdul Malik of New York. “You ain’t done nothing wrong. Just do the work of Allah, and believe.”
The service comes as the Muslim community has been rocked by verbal attacks from conservative Christians that have grown stronger since the election of President Obama and by the recent arrests in a terrorism investigation involving several Muslim men, including an imam.
“We wanted to bring people out to show you don’t need to fear America,” said Imam Ali Jaaber of Dar-ul-Islam mosque in Elizabeth N.J., the service’s main organizer. At the same time, he said, he wanted to remind non-Muslims that “we are decent Muslims. We work; we pay taxes. We are Muslims who truly love this country.”
Across the street from the service, Christian protesters gathered with banners, crosses and anti-Islamic messages. One group, which stood next to a 10-foot-tall wooden cross and two giant wooden tablets depicting the Ten Commandments, was led by the Rev. Flip Benham of Concord, N.C.
“I would suggest you convert to Christ!” Benham shouted over a megaphone. Islam “forces its dogma down your throat.” A few Christian protesters gathered at the rear of the Muslim crowd, holding Bibles and praying.
At one point, organizers asked them to tone it down.
“We would never come to a prayer meeting that you have to make a disturbance,” Hamad Chebli, imam of the Islamic Society of Central Jersey, said from the lectern. “Please show us some respect. This is a sacred moment. Just as your Sunday is sacred, our Friday is sacred.”
For some time now I’ve been a firm believer that the world needs a stronger ecumenical movement. For the church to be the Church there needs to be more understanding and cooperation among the world’s Christians.
But, as the above story illustrates, Christian ecumenicalism is not enough in this day and age. Christians need to tear down the walls of their siege mentality and build bridges to all the world’s religions –if the world is to survive. We need to go beyond the well intentioned movement to “Coexist”, where we respect each others differences, and work towards a “Comingling” in which we celebrate those things we have in common: a belief in God, a call to service and and the desire to treat others as we would want them to treat us.
What the world doesn’t need are more Christians ramming their dogma down the throats of others. But respecting the rights of others to exist alongside us is not enough. This is a good start, but it will never break the bonds of fear and prejudice that are strangling this nation and the world. We need to join in common cause. We need to break bread together, laugh together and cry together. We need to pray together.
As Martin Luther King Jr. so prophetically said, in the letter he wrote while imprisoned in Birmingham, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”