Updated: Apr 20
God blesses those who work for peace for they will be called children of God. Matthew 5:9
The 9/11 terrorist attack was still fresh in people’s minds, an open wound that was reluctant to heal. People perceived to be Arab, and certainly Muslim women wearing hijabs, were the targets of all kinds of verbal abuse and sometimes physical. A Somali-American acquaintance of mine recalls having garbage thrown at her and her family as the attackers shouted, “Go back to Saudi Arabia!” An American friend, a Microsoft executive who is originally from Africa and a Muslim, tells of being held for hours at the Canadian border and at airports. In the meantime, young American soldiers were dying in wars in the Middle East, including the daughter of a good friend of mine.
It is with this background a few years after 9/11 that I attended an interfaith conference at the Seattle Center. Among the dignitaries attending were a leading Muslim scholar, Archbishop Tutu from South Africa, Nobel Peace Prize recipient; and the Dali Lama who ended the week-long event by giving a speech at Lumen (Seahawks) Stadium. There were various breakout presentations during this time. One day I noticed a sign inviting people to learn about the Muslim faith. I went in, listened, and at the end met a couple of the presenters. Both worked for Microsoft (of course. Doesn’t everyone?) One of them invited me to his home to meet his young family. The other, over the course of the next few years, became a good friend. I visited him in his office, in his home, and at his Islamic center. I also worked with him on several interfaith community events. These encounters led to other interactions with people of the Muslim faith in other parts of the county.
Why did I reach out to people of the Muslim faith? It’s true that I wanted to learn first-hand about the second largest religion in the world after Christianity whose faith history emanates from the same person as ours – Abraham.
However, there was something else. I felt God’s nudge to get to know people who I might have considered as “other” – those of another faith who are mostly originally from other countries or are recent immigrants. As a white, American Christian, I wanted to extend a hand of peace and friendship to people who were not part of my tribe and who were often the targets of discrimination, not with a brief meet and greet, but by getting to know them personally and to understand their culture.
Over the years God has given me the opportunity to talk with some about the One in whom I put my hope and trust. One of those who I now consider a friend came to a Christmas eve service at Kent Covenant Church (KCC) where I was a member before moving to Redmond. Sometime later some members of KCC invited my friend who had retired from Microsoft to become an imam (like a pastor), to speak at the church. It turned out to be a well-attended event, hosted by the pastor, Keith Carpenter.
Did I bring peace to the Middle East? Did I erase fear and division in the hearts all those affected by 9/11? Certainly not. But what I do know is that thankfully I was able to follow the Holy Spirit’s nudge. Only God knows if it made a difference in the lives of the ones I got to know. But I think He knows.