A Funny Thing Happened at the Mosque...
by Susan Brooks
One important part of what we do with Peace Catalyst is introducing Christians to Muslims so that they can build friendships and learn from each other. With this goal in mind, a couple of weeks ago, Martin and I met a group of Christian friends at a local mosque. We observed the prayer time and toured the facility. We enjoyed our visit; and as we were leaving, the leaders there invited us to a special event that would include a dinner, special speakers, and a Muslim comedian. We had no idea what that even meant—a Muslim comedian—at the mosque?? We were intrigued, so last Friday night we went to check it out.
The dinner was amazing—hummus and pita bread and salad, rice and roast beef and baklava—I love Middle Eastern food! During the dinner, some adorable school children sang “It’s a Small World After All” and performed skits and such. There was one cute skit about how it pleases God if we give our money to the poor and needy, rather than spending it on fancy cars and big houses. The people from this mosque had helped the tornado victims in Henryville, IN, just as many Christian groups had.
After dinner, there were two speakers and a fundraising drive. By the time the comedian got up to speak, it was nearly midnight. Though it was late and we were all exhausted, within a few minutes he had us all doubled over with laughter. We were so glad we had stayed to hear him. Azhar Usman was hilarious! He talked about how everyone thinks he’s a terrorist, which isn’t funny; but it was incredibly funny to hear him crack jokes about it. He did a great job of showing how we all stereotype people, and it was great to be able to laugh about it together and to hear it from a Muslim perspective.
At one point, Azhar started commenting on the diversity of the group in attendance that night. There were Egyptians, Syrians, Indians, Palestinians, Bosnians, and African Americans… and then he turned to us. I hadn’t realized before this point that we were smack-dab in the middle of the room. The comedian looked at us and said,
“Right in the middle of it all, there’s this random white family! What in the world are you guys doing here? Are you undercover Bosnians, did you convert to Islam, or what?”
I was trying to slide under the table. I hadn’t thought of us as the only white family there, but I was the only blonde in the crowd. My bold husband, however, was just happy for the opportunity, and he replied,
“No, we just love Muslims.”
Something profound happened in the room at that moment. Everyone turned to us and smiled, and Azhar seemed astounded! He thanked us and said that they love us too, and that they were so happy for us to be there.
“You just made our night! And please tell your Christian friends that we love Jesus too, and that the Quran says that Jesus was a highly esteemed prophet, and that he was born of a virgin.” Azhar the comedian was on a roll now.
“So are you guys real, hard-core, church-going Christians?” he asked, incredulous.
“Yes,” we said.
Azhar went on, “Wow, you are brave! Your friends are going to say, ‘What!!! You went into the mosque?? Are you crazy?? Do you know what they DO in there!! They kill chickens, and then eat them!! Then they feed them to their children, and then they eat the children!!’”
He was merciless as he went on, “Now, what would make this night perfect—repeat after me…” He started into the Muslim profession of faith…
The whole place roared with laughter, and I was laughing so hard that I was crying.
Finally, Azhar became serious for a few minutes, and he led the whole crowd in a prayer of blessing and protection for us and our family. He also asked them to continue to pray for us. We were honored and touched. After the program we were overwhelmed with handshakes and invitations.
We had become part of the entertainment for the evening, but I was laughing so hard that I didn’t really mind. It was all in good fun. It is healing to be able to laugh together with those that we have imagined to be “the scary other”—to laugh about our irrational fears. It was a rare moment. Muslims and Christians were laughing together about the crazy things we think about each other based on TV programming and media stereotyping. We were face-to-face, seeing in the eyes of the other a person very much like ourselves, with similar fears, weaknesses, and—thank God—a similar sense of humor. I think Jesus was pleased and laughing with us.