Anti-Mosque Sentiments Countered With Interfaith Walk
by Nicole Ferguson
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - In direct response to recent outcry against building several mosques across Middle Tennessee, a group of interfaith congregants marched in peace from a Nashville Christian church to an Islamic Center.
"I think the main focus here is ignorance, said Yasser Arafat, vice president of the Islamic Center of Tennessee. "A lot of people don't know what Islam is. They associate Islam with extremism."
The walk began Monday evening at the Belmont United Methodist Church, and continued a mile and a half to the Islamic Center of Tennessee. More than 150 people, among them people of Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths, showed up to show their support of religious tolerance and understanding.
"It is the showing of respect to each other, each other's rights, as full American citizens who have the right to practice their religion and to initiate and build their institutions to suit their needs," said Arafat. "Regardless of what faith we come from, we have as much rights as anybody else. We all stand against extremism, regardless of what religion it comes from."
Many of the people who walked said they were disturbed by recent reports of the backlash against building mosques. Belmont United Methodist leaders said they've always welcomed worshippers from the Islamic Center, and for the past 31 years, the welcome has been reciprocated. In just a few weeks, Belmont UMC plans to invite Arafat into a Sunday school class to explain what Islam is all about.
"By growing in our understanding of each other we realize there's not that much difference," said Ken Edwards, one of the pastors at Belmont United Methodist. "We have a unity and faith that goes back many, many years and we can celebrate that. We think that we are enriched by diversity, not hindered by it."
Arafat said he would like those against the mosques to remember stereotyping is dangerous.
"One thing that people need to understand is, generalizing is not a good thing," said Arafat. "I mean we could say the same thing about Christianity, Judaism. We could look at Timothy McVeigh, David Koresh and others and what they did does not represent Christianity. What these terrorists did does not represent Islam."
"Some people might ask 'why don't you condemn?' We have been yelling and condemning," he continued. "Where are you getting your news from? But at the same time, we are not going to spend the rest of our lives condemning and apologizing for something we have not done."