November 17, 2018 – The Meet Your Muslim Neighbors event at the Denver Islamic Society (2124 S. Birch Street in Denver)

A group of us attended the event, which was described as an open house but was actually a two-hour program involving some informal discussion, a formal presentation, and a question and answer period. Our host, Muhammad, who is the president of the Denver Islamic Society, gave us an overview of what the Islamic Society does and explained some of the practices of Islam, including praying five times a day and making a pilgrimage to Mecca.

He then turned things over to the director of the Al Noor Academy, the children’s school affiliated with the Denver Islamic Society. The director delivered a presentation about Islam globally, dispelling many myths about Islam, including that it is practiced mostly in Arab nations and that Islam is a “terrorist religion.” Much of the information presented is also available on the Society’s website. I think the information on “rejecting terrorism” is particularly helpful.

Had our visit ended there, I would count it as a welcoming and enlightening experience. However, during the question and answer period, a young man not part of the Supper & Salon group asked about Islam’s position on homosexuality, and after Muhammad’s initial brief response that homosexuality is considered a sin according to Islam but that it is not his job to judge (akin to the Christian concept of “love the sinner, hate the sin”), another member of the mosque, whose name I did not get but who was described as “a scholar from Boulder,” stood up and talked for quite some time about how homosexuality is destroying the family, blah blah blah. Muhammad then explained to the young man who had asked the question that “if everyone was gay then humanity would die out.” The Supper & Salon group felt that Muhammad and the scholar showed an unwillingness to acknowledge gray areas. Their comments were not about helping us understand Islam but rather about them winning an argument. Ultimately, the Supper & Salon group, which included a same sex couple, did not feel it was productive to engage them and we did not feel comfortable in the space after that, so we excused ourselves.

Everyone at the open house would have easily fit in my home, and it had been my intent to invite all present to my home for dinner and additional discussion and relationship-building, but because we chose to leave, it didn’t work out that way.

Several of us felt particularly disappointed that the mosque leaders responded to a question from a young man—who we took to be 12 or 13—in such a way. In hindsight, one of the women in the couple wished that instead of leaving, she had done something more to let the boy know he was brave, and valued, and to assure him that, as The Trevor Project says, “It gets better.”

We learned some facts about Islam at the event. Perhaps we should invite mosque leaders to join a Supper & Salon with LGBTQ+ members so they, too, can learn some facts about a community with which they are unfamiliar. I attempted to follow up with Muhammad  and the school director the following week, by both email and phone, but to this date I have not received replies from them.

There are many bridges to build.

 

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