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Standing on the Side of Love with the Muslim Community

By Angela Garcia-Simms and Mar Cardenas

Angela: You may know that many of us quiet folks across the country have tried to do our bit to counter the people protesting the Muslim community center.

Here in San Diego, my Unitarian Universalist ministers reached out to the Muslim community and invited them to speak at our services. The UUs of South Bay community organized a candlelight vigil at the local mosque on September 11, 2010 to show our support for them and counter the anti-American mean-spirited protesters in Manhattan. The Imam and his congregants had decided to can-cel the usual Saturday service because it fell on 9/11 and they were afraid of attacks or protesters. They decided to go ahead with their service when Mar Cárdenas, the coordinator of our UU campus, en-couraged them to proceed. They prepared delicious snacks for us and set out chairs and candles to help us with our vigil. They even invited us to join them inside for prayers. We shared an experience I never expected--the beauty and mystery of witnessing solemn praying by a very differ-ent community.

I learned how much we have in common. Our basic values are very similar, their children are as beautiful and as rambunctious as those in my family, the Koran shares elements from the Old Testament and the To-rah, and their scripture includes calls for openness to the ideas of others. It was wonderful to be able to support them in exercising their right to worship according to their religion. I felt humbled and powerful that I could exercise my right as an American to dem-onstrate my support for the freedom of another community to worship as their tradition de-creed. It brought me closer to my religious com-munity, my fellow Unitarian Universalists, and closer to a people I would otherwise not have had a chance to meet.

My heart sank when I heard my Muslim friend Sarah tell everyone at our potluck that Imam Taha had decided to close the Islamic Center on 9/11 out of fear that the mosque could be targeted that day. Sarah, a Muslim Latina and the rest of the Unitarian Universalists who attended the Wednesday potluck then made the decision to be at the mosque and have a vigil to show the local Muslim community our support.

On Thursday, the plan was put on hold. The imam had received some hate-filled calls. On Friday, it was decided to go ahead with our plans. I had 24 hours to get as many UUs there as possible! I set up the event on Facebook, invited every UU in my network and sent an invitation to the UU’s of South Bay listserve. In the meantime Sarah and her team got busy planning a meal for us to show their gratitude. The mosque was not closed on that day after all.

Almost 30 UUs came, most of them wearing our cheerfully yellow SSL shirts. The women wore head-scarves to show the respect we felt for our new friends’ faith. We were invited to partake in the eve-ning prayer session during which Imam Taha spoke gratitude-filled words about our group. We laughed and played and sang silly chants together.

When Sarah came to our Chula Vista campus to speak last Sunday, she told us how everyone in her group was in tears after we left. Now we were ALL in tears too! For that one day we were all Muslims, we were all human beings holding each other close in times of adversity. Blessed be all our Muslim friends.