What happens when a person of one faith steps into someone of another faith’s house of worship?
Mehdi Khan and his wife Maleeha Nawaz, both Muslims, were willing to find out when they visited Annette Gonzales’s church in Pueblo. But it was a coming together that was fraught at the outset. Annette and Mehdi have been part of our Breaking Bread series that brings Coloradans of different walks of life together in a search for common ground. She had never met, much less attended a service, with a Muslim. That prompted us to see if she would attend Friday prayers with Mehdi and his wife.
“Well that's a huge thing for me, isn't it? Yes it is. It's a totally different thing. From outside my comfort zone completely,” she told us. But, “yeah, I would do that.”
But she changed her mind as the time drew near.
“A fear of the unknown” got the better of her, she said.
Separately, Mehdi said her backing out was “hurtful.” Still, they wanted to find a way to make things work so they settled on a different course: She invited Mehdi and his wife down to Pueblo to attend her church, and then talk things through later.
Mehdi and his wife drove down from their home in Aurora and spent the night in Pueblo because they didn’t want to be late in the morning for the church service. At the Agape Fellowship church -- "the love church," it calls itself -- there were whites, blacks, Latinos, young and old. During the sermon there were lots of references to God's love and forgiveness. At times people called out, “yes!” in affirmation. There was a lot of music and clapping and singing.
Then Mehdi, his wife and Annette found a quiet place to talk. And Mehdi jumped right in.
“So we've been ... I've been thinking about this for like two weeks, and I was really hurt” by Annette’s backing out, Mehdi said.
“I'm sorry, I'm sorry,” she said. “It wasn't you personally. Please understand that it's fear of the unknown. My family, my children -- I have six adult children -- and they were apprehensive with some of the violence that goes on. You had mentioned that your mosque hires security, as my church does as well, and I guess [it was] just a fear of possible violence. Fear of the unknown.”
“So you're saying violence? Our mosque in Aurora got stones thrown at it. In Fort Collins windows are broken,” Mehdi replied.
There was a little tension in the air, but Annette and Mehdi and his wife soon found themselves looking for common ground on their faiths and their politics -- the similarities in the messages of the Quran and the Bible, their mutual abhorrence of those who commit violence in the name of religion, curiosity about each other’s worship traditions. It was all enough for Annette to agree to visit Mehdi’s mosque -- and indeed did visit a few weeks later.
Click on the audio link above to hear the full story and conversation in Pueblo. We'll have a report from Mehdi's mosque in Northglenn soon.