by Marcia Lynx Qualey, 5/11/08 • Engage Minnesota • Gail Anderson isn’t asking you to make a new best friend. “I think if next Wednesday night, we get a number of Christians to walk into a mosque—that’ve never been in a mosque before—then I think we’ve done something,” said Anderson, unity and relationships organizer with the Minnesota Council of Churches.
Anderson helps head up the interfaith project “Taking Heart,” which brings Muslim and non-Muslim neighbors together over good meals and good conversation.
Minnesota Muslims are finding themselves voiceless, discussed, defined, categorized, psychoanalyzed, talked at and talked about without a serious attempt at inclusion. Muslims, and friends of Muslims, would like to change this climate. Engage Minnesota is a blog that begins that effort.
The next event, set for May 14 at Masjid Ummat Muhammad, was designed for South Minneapolis residents. The program is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. with two presentations: There will be a brief talk about Muslim prayer, and Anderson will discuss the Christian prayer tradition. Afterwards, free Middle Eastern food will be served, and people will be encouraged to mingle and talk.
But what if people self-segregate, and Christians sit together with Christians, and Muslims with Muslims?
“We don’t let ‘em,” Anderson said, and laughed.
Taking Heart organizers won’t let participants eat in silence, either. There will be note cards with discussion-starters at each table. Because the theme for next Wednesday’s event is prayer, the questions will be on that topic.
“And what we really encourage people to do is not go theological,” Anderson said. “Talk about being a kid, about where prayer’s been in your life. We’re looking for stories…. [Because] I think, through stories, people get to understand each other in a different way.”
Who: South Minneapolis residents
Where: Masjid Ummat Muhammad
315 East Lake Street, Minneapolis
When: Wednesday, May 14, 6–8 p.m.
Taking Heart, sponsored jointly by the Muslim-American Society (MAS) and the Minnesota Council of Churches (MCC), was the brainchild of Hesham Hussein, the former head of MAS who died earlier this year. After 9/11, local mosques and churches hosted a number of interfaith events where people could learn about theological issues. That type of event worked for some people, Anderson said.
“There are people who can come to things like that to get their heads involved,” she said. “But this is really a way to get their hearts involved.”
Part of Taking Heart: Learning to Listen
The Taking Heart initiative began 2004. Since then, some of its regular participants have worked in a soup kitchen together; others have visited the office of Rep. Martin Sabo. Taking Heart participants also held a solidarity march that went from a mosque to a church. And, in September 2005, a group of Muslims and Christians wrote a joint letter to the editor.
They wanted to write a letter that expressed “basically, that Muslims are unfairly connected to terrorism in the world,” Anderson said. “You think that’s sort of a simple thing—we all agree with that—but to work through the wording really deepened the relationship…. People had to compromise.”
There won’t be any letter-writing Wednesday night, Anderson said. The focus of the dinner will be to learn a little about prayer and to share stories. These stories could be about prayer, but they also could be about being a parent, or about the weather, or about work. “The day-to-day kinds of things.”
The Project’s Biggest Challenge
The biggest challenge in organizing Taking Heart events is not convincing Christians that it’s a good idea to get to know their Muslim neighbors.
“When I tell people about Taking Heart, they all say, What a great idea. And then we have an event, and we invite people, and people are busy,” Anderson said. “That is actually my biggest challenge.”
“If something horrible happens, then the interest will be up. But I don’t want that to happen.”
Anderson sees the Taking Heart project as still in its “beta testing” phase. But once they’ve worked through the kinks, she said, the group would like to take the project to Minnesota universities, colleges, and workplaces that have significant Muslim populations.
Ultimately, Anderson sees the Taking Heart program as building stronger, healthier communities. She describes relationships between two people or two organizations as being like a rope. “And in some ways, it could be very tenuous, like a tightrope.”
But if many relationships are formed between individuals and groups, then those ropes grow into a web or net. “So then, if something horrible does happen, that net will hold the community together.”
“That’s the imagery that keeps me going.”
South Minneapolis residents are encouraged to bring themselves and their neighbors to the Taking Heart dinner on Wednesday, May 14. The dinner is set to begin at 6 p.m. at Masjid Ummat Muhammad on 315 East Lake Street in Minneapolis.
* Information about the Taking Heart project from the Minnesota Council of Churches.
* A list of Minnesota interfaith resources.
* More about the Muslim-American Society of Minnesota.
* A map that shows the location of Masjid Ummat Muhammad.
Marcia Lynx Qualey works at the University of Minnesota. She also writes and raises two sons.