Interfaith Outreach: An Islamic Tradition

For many years now, the Presbyterian Women of the Westminster Presbyterian Church of Joliet have kept a hearty tradition they call the “Bread & Soup Supper.” In each of these gatherings, which are part of their uniform circle meetings, a different member is delegated the task of making the soup and baking the bread. This time it was Marlene Jones.

“Her delicious soup was worth every minute of the two hour trip down here,” said Ahmed Rehab, CAIR-Chicago director of Communications, who drove in from his Chicago-Loop office during rush hour.

For each supper gathering, a guest speaker is brought in to speak about a key topic. This time, the designated topic was, “Understanding the teachings of the Qur’an.”

Rehab, the guest speaker, started off by asking the women to rate their knowledge of Islam from one to ten; then he asked those who rated themselves higher than a five to raise their hand. No hands went up. He asked those who rated themselves higher than a two to raise their hand, one hand went up hesitantly amid muffled snickers of embarrassment from the audience.

“It’s ok,” Rehab smiled, “that justifies my coming here and makes my trip all the more worthwhile.”

CAIR-Chicago has its own tradition, one that entails reaching out to other faith groups in an attempt to build bridges of understanding.

“It’s not a tradition we invented,” says Yaser Tabbara, Executive Director of CAIR-Chicago, “it’s one kept by the Prophet Muhammad.”

Dina Rehab, CAIR-Chicago’s Outreach Coordinator proactively pursues opportunities in which Muslim speakers can be sent out to engage other faith congregations and address all their questions.

“No church is off our radar screen,” she said.

Back at the Westminster Presbyterian Church, Rehab sat quietly observing the regular meeting proceedings that preceded the evening’s main program. The women discussed the purchase of a new dishwasher for the Church’s kitchen; a letter from a traveling member depicting her quest to adopt a child from Cambodia; and how much money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina was raised from selling blankets in a fundraiser held a few days back.

“This is community, this is the heartbeat of America,” Rehab said. “These women, most of whom are retired, did not stop giving back, did not stop being productive. It’s truly inspirational.”

Amongst the all-female audience, one other young man stood out conspicuously. Azam Azeem of Lombard, an accounting student and member of the Muslim community drove down just to hear Rehab speak.

“I try to support Muslim outreach efforts in any which way I can,” said Azam, “even if it means just being there.”

Rehab’s 45-minute talk covered the origins of Islam, the Qur’an, and basic Muslims beliefs. It also delved into Muslim perceptions of life and death, the Bible, Christianity, and Judaism. Rehab spoke about how Islam reveres Jesus as a prophet and how Mary is the most beloved woman for Muslims.

“When Muslim women dress up modestly in the ‘Hijab’, it’s Mary whose fashion standards they are living up to, not Barbara Bush’s or Madonna’s,” he said.

One woman chuckled louder than the rest; her name was Barbara Bush.

After the talk, a Question & Answer session revealed much interest from the audience who tackled issues that ranged from women’s issues to terrorism.

“Are women allowed to drive in Islam?” asked one woman.

“My mother does not only drive, she drag races,” Rehab quipped. He went on to explain that in Saudi Arabia which observes an ultra-conservative school of thought, women are restricted from driving, but that in much of the world, Muslim women suffer no such restrictions. He added that one must differentiate between cultural and religious attitudes stressing that the primary sources of the Islamic religion; the Qur’an and Sunnah place no unreasonable restrictions on women.

At the conclusion of the evening’s event, the women gathered around their guest speaker, many of them shook his hand firmly as they shared generous words of gratitude and appreciation.

“Their hospitality is astounding,” Rehab said, “They smile at you at all times and try their best to make you feel at home. I loved being at this Church and I loved interacting with these women.”

“Please come back again,” said Carol Jerzycke, the event’s moderator, as she led Rehab to the Church doors.

“I’d be delighted to come back here anytime.”

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