A Muslim and a Christian walk into a dance studio...

One of my first times being in the Bay Ridge, I told a restaurant owner we were thinking of moving to the neighborhood. Without being asked, he told me to make sure I lived in a certain part of the neighborhood. He said, “Don’t live over near 5th Avenue…that’s where the Arabs are.”

I had only been in the Bay Ridge for a couple of hours and I was already exposed to racist sentiments held by some here in the City.

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In light of that, yesterday was a powerful day. We were joined by Abdul Elenani and his wife Ayat for our Sunday gathering for our second week in our “Who is my neighbor?” series.

Abdul is a successful business owner and Ayat is a lawyer and an auxiliary police officer. In their mid-twenties, they are both leaders in the community and are both committed Muslims. But it was their first time coming into a church gathering. Actually, Abdul said that when he first came in and heard us singing and then as we welcomed him and his wife, he began to tear up.

Some highlights from our conversation

You can listen to the full recording of our Q&A here, but I wanted to highlight a couple of things. There were many things that Abdul said he learned from his own faith which really line up with the moral teaching of the Christian Scriptures. An important part of showing who you are is how you treat your neighbors. If you want to see a man’s faith, you see it in how he loves others.

One more painful part of our discussion was when Abdul shared about his experience of racism. From a young age, he saw others around him experiencing racism, especially Muslim women. From slurs and harsh words towards his mother, to his wife and other women, it broke his heart to see how his sisters in the faith were treated for simply expressing their faith.

When it comes to misunderstanding Islam, Abdul laughed while saying, “We’re not all Taliban!” His logic was pretty sound - with more than a billion Muslims in the world, there wouldn’t be much of it left if most or even many muslims were engaged in Jihad like the Taliban. I conceded the sad fact that when a white person commits mass murder, the media quickly calls it a mental health issue. But when a Muslim or someone with darker skin does it, it is almost always called terrorism.

If you don’t have Muslim friends, Abdul encouraged us to reach out and connect. As soon as we do, he said we’ll realize that we have a lot more in common than we had realized. And I agree: whenever I have shared a meal or even a conversation with someone that believes differently, they stop being a stereotype and are clothed in their humanity.

Sharing YOUR voice

It has been great to hear from others, but we want to continue to hear more perspectives. That’s why this Sunday (9/30) we’ll be starting a new series called Alpha. Alpha will be an opportunity to explore faith in a safe environment where it’s ok to wrestle with and disagree about the big questions of life, without feeling like you’ll get shut down for your beliefs. Everyone is welcome and we’ll have some awesome food and coffee from Cocoa Grinder for free. Thanks Abdul!