This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Church reaches out to mosque after N.C. shootings

It started by sharing a parking lot.

First Mennonite Church in Champaign-Urbana (FMC) is located a half block from Central Illinois Mosque and Islamic Center (CIMIC).

First Mennonite Church of Champaign-Urbana in Illinois.
First Mennonite Church of Champaign-Urbana in Illinois.

About 15 years ago, FMC started made their parking lot available to the mosque for their Friday prayer service.

“We really appreciate the extra parking space offered for our Friday services,” said Waleed Jassim, the mosque’s representative, in an interview on March 11.

Over the years, the relationship between the Mennonite church and the mosque has grown.

They have developed a variety of exchanges including sharing resources for religious education and invited guest speakers on topics of mutual concern, such as being green and lowering carbon emissions.

The mosque usually sends the church a beautiful floral display for their Christmas Eve service. Members of the mosque invited Mennonites for one or more meals with them during Ramadan.

They also collaborate on a nearby Peace Garden.

The produce from the joint garden is donated to local homeless shelters.

After the Chapel Hill, N.C., shootings of three Muslims on Feb. 10, Julie Nieset, a member of FMC, sent an email to FMC pastor, Janet Elaine Guthrie, suggesting they reach out to the mosque.

Representatives from First Mennonite present the card to representatives from CIMIC. Photo provided.
Representatives from First Mennonite present the card to representatives from CIMIC. Photo provided.

Dannie Otto, FMC’s liaison to the mosque, thought they should do something more than a purchased card so he contacted Rachel Horst Lehman who enjoys doing calligraphy.

Otto suggested the text from the Qur’an 5:32: “If anyone kills a person, it is as if they had killed the whole of humanity; If anyone saves the life of one person, it is as if he saved the whole of humanity.”

Pastor Guthrie suggested the verse from Romans 13: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the whole of the law.”

The card also included this text: “It is with great sadness that we learned of the death of the three young Muslims who were murdered near Chapel Hill, N.C., this week. The community of First Mennonite Church stands with our brothers and sisters of CIMIC and of Chapel Hill during this time of sorrow.”

Some people at the mosque know the family of one of the young Muslims killed, according to Earl Kellogg, member of FMC. The card FMC sent to the Mosque will be sent to that family in North Carolina.

Horst Lehman designed and created the card and booklet.
Mosque card 2
Rachel Horst Lehman designed the card booklet.

She worked through the night on Saturday so that it would be ready for church members to sign it on Sunday morning.

On Feb. 20, a group from FMC attended the Friday Juma’ah prayer (the Muslim communities’ weekly prayer) and presented the card to representatives from CIMIC.

Following the service, the group from FMC was hosted at a lunch provided by an Iranian family who attends the mosque.

Jassim said that he and other Muslims have feared such crimes committed against others in the name of Islam would encourage others to commit similar actions.

The church standing with them after the incident in North Carolina gave them hope that peace among people will prevail, he said.

“Our community is struggling to let people know that the violence committed against others by eccentric Muslims is not acceptable and in no way our faith allow such actions,” said Jassim. “The church’s decision to reach out to the Muslim community was a heart warming one.”

Jassim said that the Muslim community feels that no matter the circumstances, they have people who will stand with them and others for what Jesus taught about love and peace.

Albaba SaraSara Albaba is a senior at Goshen College and a Spring 2015 intern for The Mennonite. She is an English writing major and is from Elkhart, Ind.

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