Response: July/August 2016 Issue

For the Healing of Our Nation

United Methodist Women members in Massachusetts work to build multi-faith understanding and mutuality.

For the Healing of Our Nation

United Methodist Women of the Wesley United Methodist Church join the campaign against human trafficking.

When we sing the hymn "For the Healing of the Nations," we often concentrate on catastrophic events happening in faraway places. We pray for peace and healing in our world but sometimes forget that we also need to work for better understanding in our own hometowns and neighborhoods.

The United Methodist Women of the Wesley United Methodist Church in Worcester, Massachusetts, took this challenge to heart and began to develop a relationship with Muslim women who attend the Worcester Islamic Mosque located only a few miles away.

The church's United Methodist Women reached out to the outreach committee of the mosque, inviting them to be a part of a panel on the Muslim faith hosted by the United Methodist Women. The response to this invitation was enthusiastic. A panel of five believers in Islam came to Wesley Church to share their experiences and knowledge with the Christian audience.

A step toward mutuality

Moderator Asima Silva began the panel by outlining the main principles of Islam and discussing the contributions of the Prophet Muhammad. Members of United Methodist Women and their guests were then invited to ask questions of the panel members, who all responded graciously to each inquiry. Ms. Silva is an engineer and graduate of Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Imam Abdul Latif, another member of the panel, is the resident imam of the Islamic Center in Providence, Rhode Island. Also participating were Ahmad Abojaradeh, an engineer and director of mental health for Muslim Community Link, Madeline Errishi, an American convert to Islam, and Radija Frederick, who grew up in France and came to the United States as an exchange student.

"We need to identify the commonalities and differences in our faiths in attempting to dislodge the stereotype that all Muslims are radicals," said Gail Liston, a United Methodist Women member, after the panel. "We can share fears of social isolation. Our mutual concerns for personal and family safety were recurrent themes in the panel discussion. We all need to work together respectfully to develop and support our mutual relationships and formulate mutual plans to maintain peace and understanding in our homes, our workplaces, our schools and our places of worship. As we sing: Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me!"

Continuing the conversation

In addition to United Methodist Women members and friends, members of the media also attended the event, and an article appeared in the local Worcester Telegram and Gazette the following day. As a result, Ms. Silva and Mr. Abojaradeh were invited to participate live on a local cable television channel answering questions about Islam and sharing their experiences in the community as Muslims. Later that week, Ms. Silva spoke as a guest on a local Worcester radio network.

"We wished to provide a forum to introduce a better perspective of Islam and Muslims to encourage interfaith dialogue," said Ms. Silva. "This will hopefully lead to a reduction in Islamophobia, the fear of Muslims which is currently impacting our society. In these discussions we hope to open up people's hearts for appreciation and respect for other religions and races, not just simple tolerance. I found that the audience was willing to listen, learn and question. They were courageous, for they were going against the mainstream and were brave enough to make their own judgments."

A member of a Unitarian Universalist church read the newspaper article and arranged for the Muslim panel to speak at her church as well. For that panel the room was filled with standing room only.

U.S. Representative from Massachusetts James McGovern saw the article in the newspaper and invited Ms. Silva to go Washington, D.C., to hear the State of the Union Address given by President Barak Obama in January. Ms. Silva met a number Congress members and shook the hand of the president following the address.

Planting seeds

Our work at Wesley has only just begun. We are enjoying our relationship with our Muslim sisters, and we joined them for a dinner during their observation of Ramadan. We will also invite members of a Worcester Jewish temple to join us in a triad relationship. A "Daughters of Abraham" book club has been formed with readers of Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths participating. We are working together on charitable activities, currently assisting refugees, new arrivals in the Greater Worcester community.

Our efforts, we hope, are raising the level of consciousness here on the local level as we labor for peace, understanding and cooperation among believers of all faiths. The time is right. As the Koran states, "O mankind: We created you from a single soul, male and female, and made you into nations and tribes so that ye may know one another" (Koran 49:13).

Remember the parable of the mustard seed as given in the New Testament? "He said therefore, 'What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it?' It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches" (Luke 13:18-19). The United Methodist Women of Wesley Church planted a mustard seed in our own backyard. We pray that from this seed a tree will grow and that others may follow in reaching out to those in their communities, establishing friendships and doing good works with members of other faiths, men and women of goodwill who seek peace and understanding, compassion and healing in an age of mistrust.

Margaret Watson is a member of United Methodist Women at Wesley United Methodist Church in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Posted or updated: 7/17/2016 12:00:00 AM

July/August 2016 cover of response

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