When I first approached All Saints Church on Saturday, I encountered a small protest of hateful people holding signs that said “Homo Sex is a Sin”, “Say no to Gods”, among others. I asked the volunteer directing cars if this was the only entrance, and when he responded the positive, I walked quickly through the protesters, avoiding eye contact, and ultimately, avoiding confrontation. When I looked ahead of me though I was amazed at what I saw. Behind the sidewalk where the protesters were standing, and blocking entry into the garden of the Church were a chain of people of multiple faiths, meeting the demeaning signs of the other protesters with “Standing on the side of love”, “Rooted in Faith, Standing for Love” and other interfaith signs. I knew I was in the right place.
All Saints Church, long time friends with the Muslim Public Affairs Council did not hesitate when MPAC asked if, in light of the recent tensions between Christians and Muslims, All Saints could host the 12th annual MPAC convention. Reverand Bacon agreed, believing that it would be a good symbol of interfaith between the two religions. However, he was unaware at the time of what the consequences would be for hosting a Muslim convention on Christian grounds.
An extreme Christian group posted an article online accusing All Saints of harboring terrorists, and reiterated rumors that MPAC has supposed ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and wants to impose Shariah Law in the United States. The article gained publicitiy, and the more it became exposed that the Church was hosting the MPAC convention, the more extreme Christians that came out and sent hate mail to the Reverend. Although, even members of the Congregation opposed Reverend Bacon’s decision, he stood strong behind his decision to host the MPAC convention. If anything, it validated the need to have a demonstration of interfaith between the two faiths.
MPAC conventions are usually directed toward a Muslim audience and involve “Muslim” subjects; last year’s theme revolved around the Arab Spring for example. However this year’s convention took on an interfaith tone because of the large multifaith audience and growing animosities between the different religions taking place today in the world. For many Muslims, this was the first time they had ever been inside a Church (an exceptionally beautiful one nonetheless). For many of the Christian members of the Church who attended, this was the first time they had interacted with a Muslim. I had never attended an MPAC convention before, but later in reflection on the convention, one member of MPAC commented on how remarkable it was that during the breaks, and even within the seating, how much the audience interacted and conversed with each other.
The work on improving interfaith relations didn’t stop there however. A panel discussion on “Freedom, Authority and Democracy” ensued inside the Church Sanctuary between a Sikh Community leader, a woman Rabbi, Islamic Scholar and a Reverend. The scene of Muslims, Christians, and Jews sitting side by side listening to their community leaders discuss how to handle extremists within their own communities was symbolic of how far we’ve come in progress in interfaith relations. However, the MPAC convention wasn’t only about interfaith relations–the title of this year’s convention, “Our Future in the Making”, not only referred to the progress in interfaith that needed to be made, but also the upcoming generation that would pick up, and are picking up, where the previous generation left off.
The first session of the Convention was called “Fast Fwd”, and had 5 young Muslim leaders come present the work they’re doing in a Ted-Talk style like format, from conducting research on the influence Muslims’ had on the Founding Fathers to the impact on American society they have today, from blogging about everyday things and hosting a radio show to expose ordinary Americans to mainstream Islam, to raising awareness and taking action on domestic abuse and violence within Muslim households, creating mentor relationship with impoverished and alienated youth, and building unity within the very intra-conflicted Muslim community. The speakers included an African American, white convert, two Pakistanis and a Hispanic/Italian American. These Muslims demonstrated the new generation of Muslims, far different from their immigrant mother and fathers who are increasingly making less and less of the fabric-make up of Muslims in America today. They are 2nd generation. They are converts. They are more American than they are Pakistani, Afghan, African or Arab. Most remarkable, is they have broken out of the “Muslim bubble”. They work outside of the confines of their Muslim Students Associations, and alongside Christians, Jews, and other groups on resolving issues important to them. This is the new face of Muslims today, and this will be, or already is, the new generation of American leaders today.
Like any other immigrant groups, Muslims, the majority of whom are foreign-born have stayed confined within their own religious, and ethnic circles. However, after the MPAC Convention, and witnessing future in the making, I’m positive that this is changing. The generational shift of Muslims in this country from 1st generation, to 1.5 and 2nd generation is changing the dynamics of relations between the Muslim community and others. As Muslims begin navigating their own communities and American society, more and more Americans are being exposed to what a true Muslim really is. This interaction has improved interfaith relations between the different faiths. It’s also improved the images Americans have of Muslims, and after the convention this weekend, many of the non-Muslims who attended will, undoubtedly, never need to “otherize” Muslims again. The convention was only the beginning of changes we’re bound to see.
I wrote a blog post last week about how most of the world treats their immigrants worst than in the United States. In other countries, they are often forced to be isolated and alienated from mainstream society. However, in the US where the opposite is becoming increasingly true. I saw this to be especially evident in one of the things that a young Muslim leader, Alejandro Buetel, told the audience in his presentation which received standing ovation.
“My Father is Jewish. My Mother is Catholic…And I’m Muslim. Welcome to America!”