Sacred places can be important venues for interfaith dialogue
Earth Ministry/Washington Interfaith Power & Light's work is referenced in this article highlighting the generosity of Christian churches sharing sacred spaces.
Mike Huckabee has started a debate that paradoxically reveals the depth of religious tolerance in America as well as how far apart some evangelicals can be from mainstream Christians. This time it involved Heartsong, a small church in Tennessee.
As a guest on the television program “Fox and Friends” recently, Huckabee criticized the church for allowing Muslims to worship there during Ramadan while the Memphis Islamic Center was under construction.
Huckabee asked, “Should the church be rented out to show adult movies on the weekend?” Christian duty, he said, “doesn’t mean to give my home or my place of worship to praise something other than Jesus.”
Many Muslim groups immediately condemned Huckabee’s comparison of Islam to pornography. The Council of American Islamic Relations pointed out that Muslims believe the Judeo-Christian God is equivalent to “Allah,” which, after all, is the Arabic word for God. And Jesus is a prophet in the Muslim tradition; both Jesus and Mary have an important place in Islamic moral teachings and piety.
Hucklebee’s comments reveal how isolated he is from many Christian communities that have opened their doors to Muslims. Just as in the 6th century when Muslims of Mecca sought refuge under the Christian King of Abyssinia until they had their first mosque in Medina, today Muslim communities throughout the United States pray in churches while they await their own facilities.
This is certainly true here in the Puget Sound region. For example, Muslim students at the University of Washington worshiped at the University Methodist Church before the Islamic House, those in Sammamish worshipped at Mary Queen of Peace Catholic Church before the Eastside Mosque and those in Bothell worshipped at St. Brendan’s Catholic Church before the Islamic Center of Bothell.
Muslims working downtown in large American cities are especially dependent upon churches, especially for their Friday prayers. Think about Seattle. Going to a mosque on a workday is not feasible because the closest mosque is Northgate’s Idris Mosque. Construction of a downtown mosque is not feasible due to limitations in available land and financing, not to mention zoning rules.
Thankfully—and mercifully – Plymouth Church in downtown Seattle opens its doors to Muslims on Fridays. Compare this situation with that facing Muslims in Paris, where it’s common to see Muslims praying in the streets on Fridays; American Christians are far more generous.
These examples show that despite the negative voices of those like Huckabee, and despite the intolerance of some Christians and the systematic intolerance, prosecution and violence Christians may face in some Muslim societies (such as Pakistan), many Christian churches continue to welcome Muslim worshippers. This accommodation is more than mere tolerance; it is a generosity of sacred sharing. With their actions, these churches are saying it is wrong to blame their Muslim neighbors for the actions of few distant individuals.
A recent, moving illustration of Christian communities’ sacred generosity comes from Egypt’s battered Coptic community. A month after a terrorist attack by Islamic extremists on Christian worshipers – an attack that killed 23 people and injured 97 – Coptic Christians were in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in solidarity with hundreds of thousands of their Muslim brothers and sisters demanding the end of the Mubarak regime. In one profound act of solidarity, young Copts established a human chain to create a secure space for Muslims to pray during the height of the massive protests.
Christians’ accommoda-tion of Muslims also shows that sacred spaces can be a place for interfaith interaction, dialogue and learning. Many Christian communities in the Puget Sound are leading the way in interfaith dialogue: Tacoma’s Associated Ministries provides space for Muslims, Seattle’s First Baptist Church often invites Muslims to speak about their faith and Earth Ministry works with Muslim communities on environmental restoration projects.