Friends and Neighbors

DO WE HAVE a gaping hole in our commitment to nonviolence and inclusion regarding Muslims in our community? That’s the question that the Chapel Hill Friends Meeting in North Carolina asked several years ago.

As our Muslim-American neighbors became semi-excluded in the media and political arenas, we asked: How do we take the first steps to make contact with Muslim individuals and groups? We became connected to a widening network, accepting invitations and offering them. We moved carefully, respectfully, never wanting to burn bridges, always following up on what we agreed to do.

Our first Muslim-Quaker effort proved to be too ambitious, trying to combine too many youth groups too fast. We learned a few guidelines: Think small and simple. Stay local. Take account of competing participant commitments—the jobs and families of volunteers, the erratic schedules of youth, the organizational imperatives of officials.

We discovered the range of political and religious thinking within the Muslim community. One issue is youth education; as one leader put it, youth group leaders tend to have a traditional Islamic view and be “distrustful of Americans in general.” There was also disagreement over whether to reach out to non-Muslims or to respond publicly to public attacks. These differences seemed to be based on home-culture expectations from their and their imams’ countries of origin. Their various backgrounds also shaped attitudes toward Muslim decision-making and the role of women in their community.

All this helped us tread the fine line between being intrusive and contributing supportive suggestions. Evidence of our success: several requests for private discussions to act as a sounding board on contentious issues within the Muslim community—and a request to use our Meeting house for a Muslim wedding, which we happily allowed.

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