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Conversations Toward Community

posted May 17, 2013, 12:43 PM by Interfaith WS   [ updated May 17, 2013, 12:47 PM ]

                The conversations could have been happening anywhere in North Carolina.

                We talked about family.  We talked about a daughter getting married.

                We talked about difficulty finding a job.  And a pending job loss.

                We talked about the good weather.

                We talked about the delicious desserts, especially the cherry chocolate brownies.  “I’ll swap a free tire rotation for the recipe,” I was told.

                These conversations weren’t happening just anywhere in North Carolina.  They were happening under a huge picnic shelter at the Annoor Islamic Center in Clemmons.

                Twenty men and women from various faith traditions came together with around 20 Muslims from the Annoor Center for an evening of “Dinner and Conversation.”

                The group included Muslim and Moravian physicians at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center; Baptist and Muslim teachers and counselors; a Methodist minister, a mayor and a tree hugger; pastoral care ministers; an advocate for separation of church and state; a former intelligence officer with Homeland Security; African folklorists; homemakers; professors and students; the owners of a restaurant and automotive repair center; and others.

                Annoor and Interfaith Winston-Salem organized the event after Sheik Nabil el-Fallah, imam at Annoor, suggested, “We need to get together and soon.”  Towfik Shehata of Venezia Italian Family Restaurant provided salads, entrees and drinks and guests brought desserts.  It was a mixture of Muslim hospitality and Protestant potluck.

                In sharing the meal we found that we were brothers and sisters, not Muslims and non-Muslims.  The men sat together at tables on one side of the serving lines, and the women sat together on the other side.  The tradition was Muslim, but the practice was reminiscent of my Baptist family reunions on Lake Hartwell.

                Occasionally the talk shifted from personal to theological.  “How does an imam get appointed to a mosque?”  Much like a preacher gets called to a Baptist pulpit – search committee, trial sermon, test of knowledge.  “What time is your next prayer?”  About 8:20.  “Ramadan is a time of depriving yourself of food and water so that you can center on prayer and other things.” 

                A goal of the gathering was to begin to build community by building relationships.  Two couples are planning visits in each other’s homes.  The women are planning to gather.  The men are discussing opportunities for the youth.

                As the sun set and the group began to disperse, a melodic call to prayer issued from the speakers at the masjid.  We paused.  We had just crossed a barrier and found new community in our common humanity.  While the call to prayer signaled the end of the day, it also marked the beginning of new friendships for many of us.  Peace.

-- Jerry McLeese