JOPLIN, Mo. —
All morning I have been haunted by thoughts, concerns, and fears about the burning of the Islamic Center. I have felt incredible sadness over this latest incident.
The fact that, as of this moment, we have no precise information as to the cause of the fire is very much on my mind. I must resist jumping to conclusions. That’s what we are supposed do in this country.
The fact that a few short weeks ago, there was an arson’s attempt to destroy the building is likewise on my mind. I am sorely tempted to jump to conclusions and to rail against the bigotry of this cowardly act.
And yet, I sense a better way. I want to introduce to you Imam Lahmuddin, based upon our brief friendship.
Two years ago, I met the imam. Our church was conducting a world religion seminar, and we had invited him to be our speaker for the evening that Islam was to be discussed. Several days prior to his presentation, we met. Then, and in all subsequent meetings with him, I found him to be kind, gentle-spirited, very respectful and most humble.
He is Formosan, and he maintains his citizenship there. As a student at the University of Arkansas, he earned his doctorate degree in history. His focus of study was Middle-Eastern History. For the past few years, he has lived in Joplin serving as the imam (the officiating priest in a local mosque) of the Society of Islam of Joplin.
Lahmuddin was well-received on the evening he spoke to us about Islam. As you might expect, our highest number of attendees during the seminar was on that evening. Interestingly enough, his presentation happened to follow, by a few days, the threat of a Florida pastor to burn the Koran, the Holy Book of Islam.
During the question-and-answer period following his presentation, he was asked about the threat. His response was that he considered the threat to be a test from God, that he would not respond in anger, and all true Muslims should react the same.
Regarding questions about Islamic radicalism, his response was straightforward and honest. He acknowledged and decried the presence of Islamic extremists. He abhors terrorism, and he distances himself from it.
Terrorism is not a part of true Islam, Lahmuddin said, just as it is not a part of true Christianity. He believes most Muslims and most Christians feel the same about terrorism.
As our evening concluded, a participant asked to speak. She suggested that we Americans need to hear more of this kind of information, and that such experiences would go a long way in building understanding between Muslims and Christians. The evening could not have ended on a finer note.
Thus far my relationship with Imam Lahmuddin has been one of understanding and respect. I have grown fond of him.
Be sure that he is very much Muslim. Whenever we have been together, and the time has come for his prayers, he has graciously ended our time in order to go to prayer. Also be sure that I am very much Christian. As he worships and prays as a Muslim, I worship and pray as a Christian.
I feel from him nothing but respect, and the freedom to be who I am. I hope, and I believe, that he feels the same from me. He believes Islam teaches him to relate to me in that manner. I believe Christ teaches me to relate to him in the same way.
All else is left with God.
Craig Tally is the senior minister of First Community Church in Joplin. His column appears bi-weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.