Annette Gonzalez tackled two fears when she arrived at Masjid Ikhlas Metropolitan Denver North Islamic Center from Pueblo where she lives. For one, she had always been terrified of Denver traffic and for another, she believed that most mosques were breeding grounds for terrorists.
A while back, she met Mehdi Khan at the start of our Breaking Bread series that brings Coloradans of different walks of life together in a search for common ground. Mehdi is Muslim, and Annette said she had never met a Muslim, nor had she ever set foot in a mosque.
That prompted Mehdi to ask if she would attend Friday prayers with him and his wife, Maleeha Nawaz. As we reported last week, Annette agreed at first, but then had second thoughts and asked if Mehdi and Maleeha would come to her church in Pueblo instead.
Mehdi was hurt but after thinking about it, he and his wife agreed to drive down to Annette's church. You can read and hear what happened next in our previous story in the series here. Short version: everyone found common ground and a common language with which to talk about faith in a curious and respectful way.
And then Annette drove to the Northglenn mosque to attend Friday prayers. She brought along her daughter, Angel, and said that she hadn’t told the rest of her family about what she was doing until the night before. Many of them had been apprehensive about this gathering when she first brought it up.
But here she was, being greeted by Mehdi and Maleeha, and then taken by the hand by Muslim women in hijab to the lower room in the mosque while Mehdi went to the upstairs room with the men.
The imam was eager for the Christian visitors to understand the deep roots of Islam in the United States, dating from the time of Muslim slaves being torn from their African homes and sold to owners in the New World. “We are part of the fabric of our nation,” he said.
And in his sermon during prayers, he reminded everyone in the room that there are 1.8 billion Muslims on Earth and that it is just a few of them who give the faith a bad name with acts of hatred and violence. Those few no more represent Islam than do members of the Ku Klux Klan represent all of Christianity, he said.
As prayers started, Annette and Angel respectfully took it all in. Later, the other women at prayers smiled and answered questions. And then Annette and Angel, and Mehdi and Maleeha, sat down to talk through their experience over pizza and soft drinks.
For Annette, the whole experience was eye opening -- just as Mehdi’s had been visiting her church a few weeks before. She found a desire for unity and love, peace and understanding. And she was impressed by what she described as the beautiful, friendly women in their colorful hijabs who surrounded her and took her in.
Listen to the full conversation by clicking on the audio above.
Hart Van Denburg is the digital news editor for CPR News. Prior to joining Colorado Public Radio in 2014, Hart worked at Minnesota Public Radio and at various newspapers in Connecticut, Texas, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.