Imagine, as a Muslim, you live in a town which lacks the presence of an Islamic center. (We all know how crucial Islamic centers are to our communities: they are not only places of worship, but also serve as Islamic schools, while offering space for the community to gather and socialize, all while providing children a safe place play.) Now imagine that your local Muslim community purchases some land across a church in order to build an Islamic Center – how do you anticipate the neighbors across the street will react? Most likely you will have some fears over a potential pushback or some unpleasant encounters. This is exactly what Dr. Bashar Sala and his community in Memphis, Tennessee thought would happen when they purchased land across Heartsong Church in order to build an Islamic Center for their community.
Upstanders, a Starbucks original series, made a short video about this incident and what took place between the time of the purchase and the completion of the center. The video starts with Steve Stone, the pastor of Heartsong Church, explaining his initial reaction once he found out about the project and what followed next.
The pushback never came, nor did any unpleasant encounter took place. The pastor and his church welcomed their Muslim neighbors and even let them borrow some church space in order to pray during the holy month of Ramadan when they realized the center was not going to be ready in time for it. What came out of the incident was an unlikely friendship between the two congregations and a bond which got stronger through various collaborated events such as blood drives and picnics.
In times such as the current where Islamophobia is on the rise and Muslims have become a prime target of hate crimes, beautiful stories such as this one give hope that despite our differences we can come together as one. We can easily accept each other and learn from our differences to develop real bonds that counter the hate.
The people of Heartsong Church could have easily chosen to give their Muslim neighbors a hard time but instead they chose compassion and acceptance. Through that compassion and acceptance a lesson was taught to both communities. These two congregations provide a shining example of what we can accomplish when we push hate and fear aside. We have enough hate in this world – we do not need to foster any more. What we need is an open dialogue with each other so we may learn from one another and live side-by-side in peace.