By Merletta Roberts
In early summer my husband and I were on our way to an evening event when we stopped at a fast food restaurant to get a bite to eat. As we were starting to leave, a young man in a long robe and with what seemed to be a concerned look on his face hesitantly approached us and asked, “Do you believe all Muslims are like those who recently bombed Paris and London?” We shared with him our belief that not all people are alike, no matter what their faith; that we do not believe all Muslims are terrorists. I watched as a big tear rolled down his cheek and his face seemed to relax. Together we smiled and went our separate ways. In that brief exchange something powerful happened. We went through all the layers of assumptions and we connected; connected as human beings each caring for the other
In mid-July in the Washington D.C. area, I attended the national American Baptist Women’s Ministries board meeting followed by the national conference for women and girls, “3D” (“Dwelling, Discovering, Discipling”), and after- events. The after-event I chose was Connecting Faithful Women: Experiencing Baptist-Muslim Dialogue. This event was co-facilitated by Virginia Holmstrom, executive director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries, and Rafia Sayeed, the founding chairperson of Bridging the Gap, Connecting the Faithful.
Twelve American Baptist women and five Muslim women met for two and a half days to explore what it means to be Muslim and Baptist, sharing our faith stories and getting to know each other. Rafia shared her story of developing “Bridging the Gap, Connecting the Faithful” out of her desire to do something constructive after 9-11. Her belief is that when people really get to know each other, they begin to see each other and relate differently.
As women of faith we shared our stories, our struggles, our joys, our concerns, and our celebrations. Interfaith understanding was certainly at work. The more we shared the more the group seemed to move closer together, talk more softly, and connect in a deeper way. As we respected each one’s uniqueness we found it easier to hear each other and to share more.
When we visited a Muslim Community Center we were warmly welcomed. It was clear that the Center’s focus is on the whole person at all ages. We were privileged to witness their afternoon prayers and to experience the strong connection they have with the surrounding communities.
As we said our goodbyes and shared email addresses and so forth, I realized a strong connection had occurred; that in a relatively short time together we had moved from “us” and “them” to “we.” We had plowed through the layers of assumptions and were real with each other. Wow! Again I realized that in our connecting, we cared for each other as human beings.