When George Copen stopped by the Journal, I thought he was kidding.
“Can you introduce me to some people over at the Islamic Center?” he said. George is Jewish, a member of Temple B’Nai Israel, and he’s just been appointed chaplain of the Tupelo Civitan Club.
“Well, yeah, I guess so,” I said, feeling a little like Jimmy Carter.
Then Bob Schwartz called, another of our Jewish Tupeloans, and, of course, he wanted to go.
Bob had stopped by the Islamic Center a couple of weeks before, on his own. He’d pulled right up in the parking lot, got out and started shaking hands and saying hello. He was totally unannounced.
This is pretty important. Tupelo may not be Atlanta or New Orleans, but anytime a Catholic takes two Jews to a mosque it’s noteworthy.
When we arrived at the Islamic Center, located on West Jackson Street, a Muslim named Hassan met us at the door. “Come in, come in my brothers,” he said warmly. He showed us to the prayer room, where we sat and waited on Ali to arrive, the man who serves as the lay imam.
When Ali walked in, about 10 minutes later, we all rose to meet him. Watching Bob and Ali stand face to face and call each other brother was a pretty special thing.
There was Ali, a large, dark-skinned man, wearing a kufi on his head and smiling as brightly as the sun, pleading with Bob, a skinny guy, who reminds me a little of Woody Allen, to join the congregation for prayer.
As Ali continued to insist, Muslim men entered from a side door, slipping off their shoes and going into the back to wash for prayer. Chris Kieffer, the Daily Journal’s education reporter, sat in for a few minutes, then he rushed off to another assignment and Bob, George and I sat in the back while the Muslims prayed.
When the service ended, Ali insisted that we sit and talk theology with him.
“George, may I call you my brother in humanity?” Ali said. Another brother brought out cold sodas and straws on a silver platter.
The average evangelical would have been surprised at the things Ali said. He despises socialist ideology, and insists that personal initiative is the proper way for a man to serve Allah.
He loathes the theory of evolution, and thinks the idea that humans came from primates is absurd.
He has little patience with the atheist, and believes that “the people of the book” share a common heritage of salvation.
“Why can we not help our brothers see that we hold these things in common?” Ali said.
After an hour of intense conversation we shook hands and patted each other on the shoulder. We all walked away with the distinct impression that, in Tupelo, members of our faiths would never be enemies.
Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at 678-1510 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal