A Facebook and Twitter meme in circulation these days holds that the only thing any American need know about Muslims can be summed up in the 9/11 attacks on our nation. Another asks why, if Islam is a religion of peace, Muslim scholars and clerics don’t loudly condemn extremists who misrepresent it so. Of course, this latter question also begs why more Christians don’t condemn Christian leaders embracing policies and candidates who so obviously subvert Christian principles and make a mockery of Jesus Christ’s teachings.
Which leads us to First Presbyterian Church of Waco. For the past two weeks, the downtown church has sought to battle the increasing tribalism and hate poisoning American society by inviting prominent Muslims living in our area to engage in dialogue during their 10:30 Sunday morning service. And it’s a discussion that takes place in the main worship hall — not some study room down the hall — amid the singing of Christian hymns and invocation of Christian prayers. The idea: invigorate mutual understanding of different faiths.
For instance, this past Sunday, Hewitt-based Muslim David Oualaalou climbed to the pulpit. A global affairs consultant, speaker, author and educator, he helps coordinate the annual iftar at the Islamic Center of Waco marking Ramadan — a joyous event of prayer and food (though only after sundown) which includes many local Christians as welcome guests.
During his time before the First Presbyterian congregation (including several pews brimming with invited Muslim guests), Oualaalou and First Presbyterian associate pastor Dee Dee Carson traded thoughts on prayer and scripture. For instance, Oualaalou noted that, for Muslims, spirituality without good deeds means little, something that mirrors how Christians also are to proceed, at least in principle. At another point, he talked about the importance of morality, adding: “That’s why societies can rise up or go down.”
And picking up on First Presbyterian Pastor Leslie King’s opening commentary on the kinship of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, Oualaalou reminded everyone: “As children of Abraham, we all share a common bond.”
“Every year the Islamic Center of Waco invites the community to join them at their iftar as they break their fast for Ramadan,” Pastor King told a Trib editorial board member in attendance Sunday. “They welcome us into sacred space, allow us to speak and witness their prayers and rituals. First Presbyterian enjoys that event and has a strong representation there. We wanted to return the hospitality, welcoming them into our sacred space, giving them the chance to speak and witness our practices. The congregation was very supportive and excited.”
Solution to the rampant tribalism that infects politics, race and religion? Hardly, unless a whole lot of churches sign on. But every step toward better understanding is to be cheered, whether taken at a Presbyterian service or Islamic mosque. We heartily encourage those seeking a better understanding of God’s faithful in so many different flocks to join First Presbyterian’s final round of dialogue this Sunday morning.