Thursday, March 9, 2017

USA: Mosque leads coffee-shop gatherings to 'break the us-vs.-them mentality'


Members of the Muslim group said they're happy that more and more people are attending the meetings and taking advantage of the welcome invitation to join a friendly conversation.

(Photo: Diane Moca / Naperville Sun)
Times of Ahmad | News Watch | UK Desk
Source/Credit: Lake County News-Sun
By Yadira Sanchez Olson | March 8, 2017

A gathering of men, women and children at a coffee shop is far from uncommon.

But the conversations between the friends and strangers who gathered at a Grayslake Starbucks coffee shop on Tuesday might have seemed unique to those unfamiliar with the Coffee, Cake and True Islam meetings that are hosted there each week.

On Tuesday, God, war and the challenges of parenthood were discussed around a table, where pastries, coffee and water served as the proverbial breaking of bread between groups of different faiths who, in a friendly manner, discussed their differences and similarities.

The goals of these Tuesday night meet-ups, which are sponsored by the Zion-based Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, are to extend a hand to those who want to learn about their faith and work toward peace and understanding.

"We wanted people to be in a comfortable setting, and Starbucks allows community tables," said Tahir Ahmed of Grayslake of the chosen location for the 7 p.m. Tuesday gatherings.

Although the group already hosts gatherings with the same intent each Friday at its Zion mosque, Ahmed said members thought some might feel intimidated and shy away from walking into a place where they've never been.

On Tuesday, Joel Bartelt of Spring Grove, who is of Christian faith and had brought a friend from church to his third meeting with the Muslim group, wasn't shy about sharing his views on what he sees is a conflict that worries him.

"The bottom line is, there's a lot of fear about the Islam faith," Bartelt said.

To that, Tayyib Rashid answered, "And that's why we're here — to break the us-vs.-them mentality. If we start at a platform of what we do agree on first, then we can talk about our differences."

Rashid is the reason why many of the guests said they were there on Tuesday, including Bartelt, who had heard a radio interview with Rashid some months ago and wanted to meet him and other members of the Muslim group.

Rashid is a Marine veteran from Gurnee who gained notoriety in 2015 after launching the #MuslimID hashtag in response to talks of a Muslim registry from then-GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump.

At the time, Rashid tweeted a photo of his 1997 Marine ID card and posed this question to the Republican nominee: "Hey @realDonaldTrump, I'm an American Muslim and I already carry a special ID badge. Where's yours?"

"This country has given me the freedom to practice my faith, something my own country (of Pakistan) could not," Rashid said on Tuesday. "So it's my obligation to serve. I served as a Marine for five years, and now I serve my community this way."

Out of his interactions with the Muslim group, Bartelt said that now his goal is to link his church with the Muslim community.

"I just want to make sure that what we're teaching at church is actually what we're doing on the ground. If we don't learn that we're all the same inside, then we get in situations like the hatred and the attacks that are happening now," Bartelt said, referencing the anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish cemeteries in some parts of the nation, and the instances of discrimination discussed at the table Tuesday.

For Max Shenk of Racine, it was the "Love for All. Hatred for None" message on the side the Ahmadiyya Mosque wall in Zion that drew him to the group meetings last year.

Shenk said he came across the mosque wall while living in Zion.

"I thought that was beautiful. I love that message," Shenk said.

Tuesday's meeting was the second time Shenk attended a Coffee, Cake and True Islam gathering, aside from one-on-one talks he's had with Muslim group members, he said.

The 33-year-old said the group has welcomed him, and he's grateful for the fellowship.

"What they're doing is a blessing," Shenk said. "They're giving a platform for people from all faiths to come together and learn from each other, and stop with all these fears that are really just nonsense based on a symptom of injustice."

Ahmed said the campaign to teach the difference between true Islam and extremists has not only dispelled misconceptions about Muslims. It's also opened the door for budding friendships.

"I play hockey each week with a man I had seen many times before at our children's high school and we never said one word to each other," Ahmed said. "It wasn't until he came to our meeting and we got to talking that we became friends."

At the Tuesday meetings, held at the Grayslake Starbucks at 775 Belvidere Road, men and women meet in different groups, and after a brief introduction on the True Islam campaign, the floor is left open for guests to ask questions and lead discussions in any direction.

Members of the Muslim group said they're happy that more and more people are attending the meetings and taking advantage of the welcome invitation to join a friendly conversation.


____________________
Yadira Sanchez Olson is a freelance reporter for the News-Sun.


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