“Whoever you are, wherever you may be on your journey of faith, you are welcome in this place!” is the welcome statement published on the website of the ministry at North Decatur Methodist Church in Decatur and this is exactly how women of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community (GA Chapter) felt when they were invited by Bette Prestwood to attend their Lenten Luncheon on February 24th. Although, the ties of this friendship are not very long but it has grown into one of warmth and mutual respect.
The women of the two congregations were introduced around two years through Decatur book festival where Ahmadi Muslims were volunteering at their community’s bookstall. The relationship has developed into one of mutual respect mainly because both are interested in learning about each other in a peaceful atmosphere. Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA is the oldest Muslim presence in the U.S. and its Georgia Chapter was established around 18 years ago. Currently, a congregation of about two hundred and fifty, it has always encouraged interfaith dialogue and social service projects. So, this interaction with a different faith group is nothing new for the Ahmadi Muslim women.
While the mainstream media chooses to portray all Muslim women as “oppressed”, “victims”, “uneducated” and “unequal” to their male counterparts, this continued interaction would hopefully shatter some of these common stereotypes associated with them. This would also expose our sisters from the Methodist church to local Ahmadi Muslim women who are not only commanding their household duties but, are also actively involved in their community, leading in social service projects, happily engaging in their neighborhoods, and finding friends around them. In addition, this communication is an excellent opportunity to find commonalities and to better understand differences.
The service started at 11a.m. The Senior Pastor Rev. Dr. Nicholas Harvey welcomed their first ever Muslim visitors with the Islamic greetings “Assalam-o-Alaikum”, “Peace be on you”, a gesture greatly appreciated by the guests. This followed with a beautiful presentation from the church choir followed by a short narration from a church member Mr. Ray Cowan on how the church has been a good source of support throughout his life.
The peaceful atmosphere of the service was a reminder that there are different paths to reach the same God. Just like Sunday is reserved for community members to gather and pray as a group, Muslims have a service held every Friday and similar to how a priest delivers a sermon at any church, the imam also delivers a sermon for his congregation.
Common themes of praising and showing gratitude to God were the highlights of the beautiful service. While Muslims strive for peace through Muhammad (peace be upon him) as their messenger and Quran as their holy book, our Christian brothers and sisters strive for salvation through the message and practices of Jesus (peace be upon him) and the Holy Bible. At the end of the day each faith is pursuit of peace through justice, high morals, good deeds, spirituality, kindness and truth. Having differences in interpretations of truths is only reminiscent of the diversity in human race as indicated by God in the Holy Quran, “We have made you into tribes and sub-tribes that you may recognize one another. Verily, the most honorable among you, in the sight of Allah, is he who is the most righteous among you.” (49:14)
After the service concluded, Mrs. Stubbs, the Women’s Auxiliary President of UMW did a short prayer and then the guests were treated to a buffet style salad bar lunch. The Ahmadiyya Women’s Auxiliary (GA Chapter) President Farhat Pall and Outreach Secretary Mahmooda Rehman presented a fruit basket to the gracious hosts. Everything was made from the heart and was extremely delicious.
Interfaith interactions like these are beneficial in bridging gaps since they create an atmosphere of respect for each other’s faith and practices, an idea essential to preservation and promotion of peace and harmony in the society. So God willingly, this friendship will grow with every future interaction.