By Mahmoud El-Yousseph
In the small Tennessee town of Cordova sits Heartsong Church, who welcomed their Muslim neighbors in a time of distress. The church’s act of generosity is deeply gratifying to me as a Muslim.
This story was not found in mainstream media, but rather on an Arabic website whose name translates as "incoming traffic," and was filled with heartwarming pictures of the event.
It all began shortly before the holy month of Ramadan, when the mosque across the street from Heartsong could not meet its renovation deadline in time for evening prayers, or "taraweeh.” So the imam asked the church’s pastor, Dr. Steve Stone, if his congregation could use the church for their prayers. Permission was granted.
What makes this noble act by this man of God unique is that it happened during mass anti-Muslim hysteria that swept through our country last summer. Violent crimes targeting American Muslims, their homes and institutions were at a peak and the media was obsessed with so-called pastor Terry Jones of Florida who threatened to burn copies of the Holy Qur’an on 9/11.
It is ironic how Jones managed to capture international media attention with his provocative act, as well as posting a sign in front of his church that read, "Islam is Evil.” On the other hand, Heartsong put up a sign that read “Welcome to our new Muslim neighbors.”
Had the media devoted the same amount of time and energy to the Heartsong story, people in the Muslim world would not be chanting, "Death to America,” but would have waved Old Glory instead.
Pastor Stone has 800 followers, whereas pastor Jones had only a few dozen. I spoke to Dr. Stone by phone to express my gratitude and visited the Church’s website and his own blog. I learned a lot.
This man of God lost 14 members as result of his act of kindness, but gained more. Among the newcomers was a total stranger by the name of Richard, who wrote the pastor to say, “Your act is an inspiration to me. It has been over 30 years since I regularly attended church, but I may join Sunday.”
Nadeem, a man from Memphis’s Muslim community was among 100 Muslims who attended the prayer at Heartsong. He wrote, “Heartsong to our community is now well known as the house of love and respect for our (Islam) and other religions." Nadeem, who was deeply moved by the hospitality that he and his Muslim friends received at Heartsong, reminded Pastor Stone of a similar story where Christians showed true Christian love to Muslims by stating, "When our Prophet asked the persecuted Muslims to migrate to Ethiopia, then ruled by the Christian King, Negus, he provided them a home and respectful welcome.”
Not all the reaction was positive. An angry Helen Edwards wrote to Dr. Stone, "I hope you will be the first one on those savages’ list for beheading."
By the end Ramadan, Heartsong’s congregation invited their Muslim neighbors for dinner. The guests brought flowers in gratitude to their hosts. People hugged each other with tears of joy in their eyes. Above all, they referred to each other as “brother” and “sister.”
Pastor Stone eloquently explained his church’s decision in one of his interviews: “This place does not belong to us; it’s God’s place and we’re just sharing." Pastor Stone and his congregation have welcomed Muslims for the love of Christ, peace be upon him, who said to “love thy neighbor as thyself.”
– Mahmoud El-Yousseph is a retired USAF veteran. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.