I imagine many of us can recall seeing a clever message featured on a roadside marquee in front of a house of worship. I see many on my regular drives around Atlanta and along state roads. “If God is your co-pilot, swap seats,” was one I passed when traveling on Highway 441 through North Carolina. “Seven days without prayer makes one weak” and “Cars are not the only thing recalled by their maker” are some others that gave me a chuckle.
The messages featured on the roadside sign in front of Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation are pretty plain vanilla in comparison. Most weeks, we simply feature the title of the upcoming worship service. So, I wondered if that the promo for this past Sunday’s worship service might stir up some questions and concerns. Sure enough, it did.
“What I Love about Islam,” was the title of the sermon delivered at Northwest by Rev. Dr. M’ellen Kennedy, a Unitarian Universalist minister and Sufi minister. For many years, Rev. Kennedy’s ministry has included educating others about Islam and working to build bridges between Muslims and non-Muslims. The nonprofit organization Peace and Unity Bridge, which Rev. Kennedy founded, is striving to end the costly and dangerous misunderstandings between the Islamic world and the West.
While I took an elective course on Islam in my Methodist seminary (which was taught by a Muslim professor), what I know about this complex faith only scratches the surface. When I read in the papers about the cold-blooded and violent actions of extremists such as ISIS and Boko Haram, I can’t help but feel deeply disturbed.
And, yet, while I join others who condemn the evil acts of extremists, I also don’t believe that a wholesale rejection of this ancient religion is the answer. Rather, I hope to continue to increase my understanding of Islam and other faiths . . . and do what I can to promote love, tolerance, and religious pluralism everywhere.
When Pakistani teenager and Muslim Malala Yousafzai was shot by a Taliban terrorist for attending school and speaking up for girls’ education, she did not abandon Islam. Rather, it seems that the best of her faith tradition helped her go on and continue her work for justice. “The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions,” she said. “But nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear, and hopelessness died. Strength, power, and courage were born.”
May the actions of extremists not capture us in a dark web of fear and distrust. Instead, may we join with those like Malala and Rev. Kennedy who are lighting the way with courage and truth, so that persons of all faiths may live in harmony and peace.