Earlier this month, I and a number of members of LEAD (Leaders Engaged and Determined) had the opportunity to visit the Muslim Community Center in Sioux Falls. As a non-Muslim, I found it to be a fantastic and educational experience. We had a question and answer session, followed by the Friday sermon and prayer service. Even though I cannot fully capture everything about that visit, I wanted to share a bit of what I saw, heard, and learned while there.
The event began with an hour-long discussion with Mohammad Qamar, MD, Director of Interfaith Dialogue and Public Outreach at the MCC, where he answered our questions about Islam and the Muslim community. A large portion of the conversation covered a million dollar question, “What are some misconceptions about Islam?” Our host joked that he could spend four hours talking about that topic alone. One of the more unfortunate misconceptions is that Islam is a violent religion. Dr. Qamar spoke about how the teachings of the Quran actually oppose violence, except in cases of self-defense. By using Islam as an excuse for violence, ISIS and other terrorist organizations are corrupting and twisting the religion, along with committing the worst kind of blasphemy.
We also learned some more about Islamic traditions, including the holy month of Ramadan. If you’re not familiar with Ramadan, it is a month of fasting from sunrise to sunset. Because Islamic tradition uses a lunar calendar, this holy month occurs at a slightly different time each year. This year, it is scheduled for June. With the long summer days, fasting can be quite challenging. However, it is supposed to be a time to reflect on one’s self and experience humility, while also being generous with charitable giving. By religious law, Muslims are required to give a certain percentage of their wealth to charitable causes each year, or their wealth is not considered to be legitimate.
The part of the experience that resonated most with me was when we had the chance to listen to the sermon that day. The message of this sermon was not so different from what I’ve heard growing up in a Lutheran church. As the preacher spoke, I heard messages promoting kindness and generosity. We were encouraged to treat others with the same respect that we would like to receive ourselves. He spoke about how everyone deserves kindness, regardless of race, religion, or background.
Overall, my experience visiting the Muslim Community Center was incredibly positive. Everyone there was very welcoming and I want to thank Dr. Qamar and the MCC for being willing to host us and answer our questions. If you have a chance to visit the MCC in Sioux Falls, or someplace like it in your own community, I highly recommend that you take that opportunity. I expect that, like I did, you will find that there is much more that unites us than divides us.