In Minnesota, the heavily Muslim Somali community has been rocked by recent terrorist associations. In October, Shirwa Ahmed, a Somali man from Minneapolis, returned to Somalia and killed himself in a suicide attack. The FBI claims Ahmed was indoctrinated in extremist beliefs while living in Minnesota. Ahmed attended the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center, which has received a barrage of nasty voice mail messages and accusations that the mosque is a recruitment center for terrorists.
So what does a religious institution under attack do? Abubakar officials threw the doors open last night and invited the community. The mosque sought to embrace neighbors, educate the curious about Islam and dispel rumors.
“If people don’t know one another, they may think something is not good,” said Abdirahman Sheikh Omar, president of the mosque. “We are part of the Minnesota community. We are good citizens. We are taxpayers working for the good of Minnesota society. We are not here to harm anybody.”
My first thought was good for them. It seemed like a good way to respond and I was about to move on when I came across this paragraph:
John Ratigan and his wife, Kristin Green, who is eight months pregnant, were thrilled with the center’s open house invitation and brought along their 5-year-old daughter, Tona Ratigan Green. “There are a lot of bad stereotypes out there,” Green said. “I came here to say I don’t share those. … The people here are real friendly to let all these strangers in here. Our church has never done this.” (emphasis mine)
“Our church has never done this.” Ouch. Granted your church probably hasn’t had allegations of terrorist connections and had the need to do something like this. But that doesn’t excuse your church from being invisible in the community.
Terrorists give Islam a bad reputation, and many Muslims are working to overcome those negative stereotypes and explain that terrorists have twisted Islamic beliefs. While not nearly as extreme (though we have our own brand of extremists), it reminds me of the damage Christians have done to our own faith and the work we need to do to overcome negative stereotypes. Whether it’s something vast and far-reaching like the Catholic abuse scandal, something more limited like Ted Haggard, or something personal like day to day actions that aren’t consistent with our faith.
A Minneapolis mosque has figured out how to reach out and overcome a bad reputation. Are there ways your church needs to do the same?