Even something as simple as purchasing a turkey can become a key to interfaith understanding. I learned that recently.
I serve as Lay Chaplain for a campus ministry and I needed to buy a halal turkey for our Thanksgiving dinner. Halal “is an Arabic word meaning lawful or permitted. In reference to food, it is the dietary standard, as prescribed in the Qur’an (the Muslim scripture).”
My nine-year-old step daughter came along with me to the only halal market in our area in Northwest Arkansas. On the car ride over I took the opportunity to have a conversation with her about religion practice and food. We talked about what it means for meat to be halal, prepared as prescribed by Muslim law. Then we talked about Judaism and the kosher diet. Finally, we talked about whether our faith impacts how and what we choose to eat. Our consensus was that it all comes down to making the best choices we can in a given situation to respect creation and nourish our bodies.
We got to the store, which upon our arrival was closed for fifteen minutes so that the cashier could say his afternoon prayer. It turned out the halal turkey was not in stock yet. So, I returned a few days later, the shipment had still not arrived. This time the cashier recognized me. On my third trip there was a turkey waiting for me and I had another opportunity to engage my neighbor.
Islamophobia is one of many plagues sweeping the modern United States. Anti-Muslim sentiment relies on expansive, hateful judgement not fact or reality. The Muslim community is diverse – just like the Christian community is diverse. The Muslim faith is nuances – as is the Christian world. According to the Times article Islamophobia Is Ruining America—But Not How You Think, “Knowing a Muslim is the best inoculant against anti-Muslim bigotry.” So, if you agree that islamophobia is harmful then get out there and know your Muslim neighbors.
If you’re a Christian like I am we are commissioned by Jesus: “I give you a new commandment: love one another.” (John 13:34) The Koran, the sacred book of the Islamic faith, has a similar command: “O humankind! Behold we created you male and female and we made you into many nations and tribes so that you might come to know one another.”
This is what my community did. On Tuesday of last week, we had our halal Turkey. We’ll sit down for a Thanksgiving dinner together with students of the University and families who have been resettled in Northwest Arkansas over the past year, some of whom are Muslim. We will meet our neighbors, learn from each other, and learn to love.