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Christians Visit Historic Sacramento Mosque
Ras H. Siddiqui, California

April 2003 - It may not be the first time and it will not be the last, but when a group of Presbyterian Christians visited one of North America’s oldest places of Muslim worship, the Downtown “V” Street Mosque in Sacramento, California on April 6, 2003, one could call it a new beginning of sorts. And beyond the terminologies that one can use to best report on this gathering, like a bridge building effort between faiths, one can safely say at this point that both communities came away enriched.

But before moving on, an apology is due for not being able to attend a very important meeting in Woodland on April 5th (the night before). It appears that the AMA’s Khalid Saeed had invited not one but two reporters to the well publicized Dinner that he had arranged to recognize inter-community bridge building post 9/11. But at the last minute both reporters had to defer and assumed that the other would be able to prepare the report. The only good news one can offer at this point is that at least some of the previous effort was duplicated at the Downtown Sacramento “V” Street Mosque gathering, and one can only hope to capture that essence of both events without being at each of them.

  The beautiful Sacramento spring afternoon saw the Al Momineen Sunday School at the Downtown Mosque in full session as the group of about 20 members of the Woodland Presbyterian Church arrived to a reception committee comprised of Mosque President Bashir Chaudhry, Imam Mumtaz Qasmi, Mr. Shahid Chaudhry and Muslim parents waiting for their kids. It is interesting to note that the Presbyterian Church girls and women all wore scarves to cover their hair as a sign of respect for Muslim customs even though such attire is not mandatory for visitors. And in these times when people in the West have commented on the Hijab as being a divisive factor in community

relations, this group of female Christian visitors succeeded in turning this headdress into a symbol of solidarity instead.

  The visitors and the hosts next gathered together in a school room where members of the two faiths held an informal “meeting of the minds” so to speak. The AMA’s Shahid Chaudhry made the introductory speech, followed by Imam Mumtaz Qasmi, Mosque President Bashir Chaudhry, Church Elder Dr. Ron Churchill and Pastor Gene Crumley.

The Group was also taken on a tour of the Mosque during which they observed Muslims in Prayer and a lunch was arranged for them soon afterwards.

  Shahid Chaudhy stressed the need to focus on the huge similarities in the Christian and Islamic faiths but regretted that people want to dwell on the small differences. He said that we all believed in the same God, creator of Adam, Noah, Jesus and Muhammad (PBUH). Imam Qasmi recited from the Holy Quran and translated parts for the visitors.

He said that beliefs are not enough because one also has to practice on one’s beliefs.

Bashir Chaudhry expressed his appreciation to the visitors for taking their time to visit this historic Mosque which began construction in 1944 and was finished in 1947.

  But it was the presentations by the Woodland Presbyterian Church speakers that were

most illuminating for the us Muslim listeners at this gathering. We have to to focus on the talk given by Dr. Ron Churchill here because (had to leave just before Pastor Gene Crumley’s speech due the fast approaching SALAM Sunday School children’s pickup time for my daughter). But one hopes to have captured most of the Presbyterian Church group’s message here.

  Dr. Ron Churchill started off by giving us an introduction to Christianity. He delved

into the role of the Old and New Testaments and the many Christian denominations that exist today (we Muslims have similar issues). He went into the basics of the faith from the birth of Jesus. He also spoke of the split in the Religion between the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox and then the split around 1550 when the Protestants broke off from Rome. He informed us that in the US today there are approximately 72 million Protestants, 63 million Catholics and 4 million Eastern Orthodox Christians. He said that there were numerous Protestant denominations (too many to mention) and that the basics of the belief were the same. He explained why Christians believed in the concept of the Son of God but that nothing can take the place of God. He went into the Ten Commandments from the Old Testament and said that there were a lot of parallels in Islam. And then he put up a very unusual comparison on the overhead projector between Christianity’s The Lord’s Prayer (6:9-13) and the Muslim Surah Fateha (1:1-7). Going line by line he said, “I think that we are very close.”

  After going into the beliefs of the Protestant Presbyterians with regards to Baptism and

Communion, Ron opened up the floor for questions. And that is when this reporter had to leave, while remaining thankful  for this effort. 

  In conclusion one could not help thinking that such discussions between Abrahamic faiths are a much better way to understand others than choosing ignorance or by putting other beliefs down and engaging in military conflict. Could it be that someday Christians, Muslims and Jews will look back at our times and shake their heads at this era of missed opportunities and unnecessary  wars?

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