American church in Memphis welcomes neighbouring Islamic Centre


by Jai
15th September, 2010 at 11:45 am    

As is now known worldwide, there has been a huge amount of publicity about the now-cancelled “Quran-burning” by Terry Jones, a pastor in Florida who not only attempted to link his own anti-Islam agenda to the ongoing “Ground Zero Mosque” issue involving Park51/Cordoba House in New York, but also views Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism as being literally “from the Devil”. In fact, if he’d wanted to “send a message to radical Islam” as he’d claimed, it would have made far more sense for him to burn a bonfire of photos of Osama bin Laden instead. It’s also worth remembering that by far the largest numbers of victims of Islamist militants have actually been ordinary Muslims; tens of thousands have been killed during the past decade alone.

In relation to the Quran-burning issue in particular, Pickled Politics recently discussed the inordinate weight that many sections of the mainstream media have given to the extremists on all sides; the need for moderates everywhere to oppose the latter has also been emphasised by the Sufi Imam Rauf of the Cordoba Initiative. Readers may also be interested to hear that Imam Rauf was interviewed at great length by CNN last week, and a wide range of relevant issues were discussed in considerable detail (full transcript here).

There are some horribly ironic facts in this situation: Not only has Imam Rauf been actively assisting the US Government with anti-Islamist-extremism efforts for a number of years (both the Bush Administration and now the Obama Administration), but Salafi-Jihadists like Al-Qaeda and the Taliban actually violently hate Sufi Muslims, because they regard Sufis as “heretics” who are “excessively liberal” and “excessively benevolent” towards non-Muslims. Therefore, we now have Sufis being persecuted by fundamentalist Christians, the American “conservative Right”, and militant Islamist extremists, aided and abetted by Fox News and their allies in the Republican Party.

However, a more encouraging development in America which has unfortunately received comparatively little publicity is the following: During the course of the past year, members of a church in Memphis, Tennessee, have gone out of their way to welcome the presence of a neighbouring Islamic Centre which is in the process of being built. This has very recently been covered by CNN and MSNBC as a positive counterexample to the rising wave of anti-Muslim bigotry in other sections of American society.

Via the Huffington Post:

If only Terry Jones, the firebrand behind “International Burn a Koran Day,” were going to Graceland. A small detour could lead him to the doorstep of fellow Pastor Steve Stone….When Stone read in the newspaper that a new Memphis Islamic Center was coming to town, he scrambled to make a sign and took to the street.

“Heartsong Church welcomes Memphis Islamic Center to the neighborhood.”

…..Stone’s counterpart, Dr. Bashar Shala, was overwhelmed by the reception. The sign was only the start of a heartwarming relationship that formed between the two communities. Heartsong eventually decided to let the Islamic Center use their hall while building a new facility.

Besides bringing their own constituencies together for some interfaith activities, Shala and Stone have gone public together with their example. They appeared on MSNBC’s “Countdown” on Wednesday night….Stone found one more example that should resonate with observers:

“I heard [Jones] on a station the other day saying about radical Islamists that ‘these are people you just cannot reason with.’ And I thought that was the pot calling the kettle black.”…..Stone doesn’t stand alone. Last week, he blogged that, “The majority of the response both locally, nationally and internationally has been positive and affirming. And honestly, that has been both surprising and heartening to me.”

…..The Memphis Commercial Appeal recently trumpeted a separate local gathering of 150 supporters after the arson [attack on a mosque] in Murfreesboro. Attendees brought their own signs, with slogans like “We’re all in this together” and “My God is not a bigot.”

The original Huffington Post article includes a video clip of Pastor Stone and Dr Shala’s interview on MSNBC. During the weekend I also saw Pastor Stone being interviewed by CNN; not only was he even shown to be kindly allowing the local Muslims to use the church for Islamic prayers, but he also mentioned that the members of his church now view their new Muslim friends as their “brothers and sisters”.

Such positive attitudes are a demonstration of the very best of mankind and of Christianity itself, not to mention being a far more accurate reflection of Jesus’s own teachings and behaviour; furthermore, they are also very much in line with the humane and far-sighted stances of America’s Founding Fathers. Two examples summarising the latter are given below; they also show how far Fox News and the more extreme elements of the Republican Party have diverged from these ideals.

The Founding Fathers on Muslims, Jews and religious discrimination

The first example has already been mentioned previously on PP, but I do not think it can be repeated enough. The following is from Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli, signed in 1797 directly by the Founding Father and 2nd US president John Adams, and unanimously approved by Congress. Adams was the direct successor to George Washington, and the immediate predecessor of President Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence:

“As the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion….it has in itself no character of enmity towards the laws, religion, or tranquillity of Musselmen [ie. Muslims].”

The second example involves President George Washington himself, who was determined to make a statement emphasising the new nation’s secular and egalitarian ideological basis. Therefore, in August 1790, Washington wrote a letter to American Jews. Bear in mind that the original founder of New York had first attempted to expel Jews from the city and then banned synagogues from being built anywhere in Manhattan, a prohibition which was implemented until 1730. Considering the increasingly disturbing pattern of behaviour towards modern-day Muslims which many American Jews have also condemned, Washington’s eloquent statements still have an extremely important message. The inspiring extract below says it all:

“The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy — a policy worthy of imitation.

…..It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens.

…..May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

During his recent rally in the American capital, Fox News anchor & ‘Tea Party’ icon Glenn Beck made some tearful remarks about how “we need another George Washington” and how he knew that “there was a George Washington somewhere” in the crowd. Considering his extensive history of racially-charged and fundamentalist religious rhetoric, Beck and his allies would do well to take heed of his alleged hero’s own words above.


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Filed in: Civil liberties,History,Muslim,Religion,United States






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  1. Refresh — on 15th September, 2010 at 2:44 pm  

    Excellent series from you Jai.

    This post in particular shows the way to fighback Murdoch (aka Fox News), Beck, Palin and all those who are mightily pleased they’ve finally got traction in their battle to destroy progessive America. Muslims are just a means to an end.

    And as is always the case, there is a tipping point when the concerned majority rise up and I am pleased to say that point is almost upon us. Lets hope it translates to a similar outcome here. A good iconic start would be the expulsion of Phil Woolas from politics.

    Oddly enough the thugs of the right have made it almost an imperative that the Cordoba initiative succeeds, for no other reason than as a symbol of a progressive America.

  2. Kismet Hardy — on 15th September, 2010 at 3:18 pm  

    “members of a church in Memphis, Tennessee, have gone out of their way to welcome the presence of a neighbouring Islamic Centre which is in the process of being built.”

    Goddess be praised when religion gets it right sometimes

  3. douglas clark — on 15th September, 2010 at 4:45 pm  

    Jai,

    Great post, if I might say so. As a godless heretic.

  4. Mark @ Israel — on 15th September, 2010 at 6:46 pm  

    This is a great leap for these good citizens to apply the so-called multiculturalism, ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue. Sometimes, one needs to look at the situation based on lenses other than political maneuvering and personal interests.

  5. Jai — on 16th September, 2010 at 9:49 am  

    Thanks for your comments, everyone.

    You can see Pastor Stone and Dr Shala’s interview on MSNBC here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cprj3ysELTg

  6. joe90 — on 17th September, 2010 at 11:44 am  

    finally a positive story which warms the heart where people can respect each other and their beliefs. After months of reading story after story which where all about lies, hate and bigotry.

  7. j.stoddart — on 22nd September, 2010 at 12:34 am  

    jai,

    “Salafi-Jihadists like Al-Qaeda and the Taliban actually violently hate Sufi Muslims, because they regard Sufis as “heretics” who are “excessively liberal” and “excessively benevolent” towards non-Muslims. Therefore, we now have Sufis being persecuted by fundamentalist Christians, the American “conservative Right”, and militant Islamist extremists, aided and abetted by Fox News and their allies in the Republican Party.”

    this is a huge generalisation. you’ve bee affected by the stereotype of the sufi as a rumi loving, flowers in his hair, limp wristed white liberal. sufis are a fairly diverse group. some people who identify as sufi do try to strictly adhere to shariah, even if there are some points of divergence from mainstream muslims.then there are those groups within sufism who are composed of non-muslims (idris shah, for example)or those groups who accord to much imporatance to their leaders to the point that they could perhaps be accused of idolatory.

    it may also interest you to know that sufi muslims attached to brotherhoods were very well represented amongst those fighting in chechnya, during the the russian invasion of afganistan and in muslim uprisings against colonial rule in africa.

  8. Jai — on 22nd September, 2010 at 10:11 am  

    you’ve bee affected by the stereotype of the sufi as a rumi loving, flowers in his hair, limp wristed white liberal.

    Curious statement. I’m neither “white” nor a “limp-wristed liberal” — I’m an Indian Sikh and a member of the Khalsa.

    As for the rest of your comment, I’m perfectly aware of that; even Rumi, regarded as the archetypal “Sufi mystic” here in the West, was actually a fully-qualified Sunni scholar. I’m also fully aware that Sufis are by no means necessarily pacifists, as anyone with an accurate grasp of (for example) both colonial & medieval Indian history would already know.

    It still doesn’t detract from the fact that Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are very hostile indeed towards Sufi groups they regard as far too liberal and/or far too benevolent towards non-Muslims. The Sufi targets of recent Islamist terrorism in both Pakistan and Afghanistan fall into this category. As do Imam Rauf and the Cordoba Initiative, compared to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban’s own respective interpretations of Islam and compared to the attitude towards non-Muslims prevalent amongst the core circles of Al-Qaeda in particular.

    And as a result, the Sufis involved in the Cordoba Initiative have not only explicitly stated that they are enemies of Al-Qaeda, but they are indeed now undergoing the horribly ironic experience of simultaneously being victimised & scapegoated by Christian fanatics, the American “conservative Right”, Fox News and certain senior figures in the increasingly-extremist Republican Party.

    Any further attempts to divert the discussion with irrelevent pedantry and strawman arguments will be deleted.

  9. j.stoddart — on 22nd September, 2010 at 12:48 pm  

    [Deleted by Jai. See final sentence in #8]

  10. j.stoddart — on 22nd September, 2010 at 4:38 pm  

    [Deleted by Jai. See final sentence in #8]

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