I have a mosque in my backyard.
Not an imposing, domed, stone edifice with spindly minarets—it actually looks like a small, utilitarian, B-Flat, or ordinary type of building. If you didn’t know it was a mosque, you might think it was someone’s home or a private office of some type.
You can imagine the sidelong looks I get when I say that I have a mosque in my backyard. You can perhaps also imagine the interesting comments and questions, too.
“Isn’t that weird?”
“How did they manage to get that past zoning requirements?”
“Are you going to move?”
I tell everyone that it is not “creepy” at all, as the people I’ve met have been quite friendly. To be honest, I’d rather have a mosque in my backyard than any other type of business, like a Turkey Hill or Target.
Every Friday, the streets around the mosque fill with cars as the people gather for prayer. Some wear casual clothing while others wear more traditional clothing, such as long robes and hijabs. Saturdays must be youth group day, as the open yard fills with kids shouting joyfully as they play soccer or chase a Frisbee. Their parents join in the game or sit and watch, chatting in the afternoon sun. It is like any other gathering of folks enjoying a beautiful afternoon of fellowship.
Ramadan comes in May, and the mosque becomes an even more active gathering place in the evening. One night, my daughter called me in her room shortly after I’d turned out the light. “Mom, what is that ‘mooing’ sound I hear?” I stopped and listened, then opened her window. Floating on the warm breeze came a low, humming murmur from the mosque, not unlike the gently lowing of a cow.
I smiled. “It’s the mosque. The people are worshipping tonight. Should I close the window?”
“No, leave it open for a while. Sometimes it keeps me up, but I like the sound.”
I like it, too.
But one night around midnight, again during Ramadan, I was awakened by loud yelling out in front of the mosque. It looked as if people were in the parking lot, talking and joking with each other at their cars after the worship service. Children were cavorting in the alleyway, and I had a hard time getting back to sleep.
I was grumpy about this and mentioned it to my husband the next morning. The following day, he went over to the mosque and talked to the imam, saying that we didn’t want to complain, but that it had been quite noisy the previous night. The imam was extremely apologetic and assured us it wouldn’t happen again. It didn’t. I think they know they are in a precarious position in our current tense political climate and don’t want to disrupt anyone in our neighborhood. They knew any little infraction could bring them much unwanted attention.
This makes me sad and makes me question the carte blanche we receive as Christians in small-town America. For example, my own church is two blocks away from me (and therefore, from the mosque). Our church has had many loud celebrations or gatherings outside on our grounds, yet no one in our neighborhood has complained about the noise level (at least, not to my knowledge). We are allowed to be outside freely, playing loud music, shooting basketball, riding bikes, barbecuing, and creating a general raucous without worrying if our neighborhood community might get offended and call the police on us. The difference is we’re not Muslims; we’re Presbyterians. We get extra grace.
As white Americans, we get extra grace in countless situations. When we enter an airport, no one stares at us suspiciously. No one looks at our clothing with disdain or fear; no one from the TSA pulls us out of line because our name sounds mildly Arabic; no other passenger asks their seat to be changed to avoid sitting beside us on the same plane. These small, seemingly benign incidents happen all the time to our Muslim brothers and sisters, and instead of being outraged, we allow it to continue.
Furthermore, if President Trump’s Muslim ban continues, such incidents will continue to rise. While the ban may (supposedly) keep out some criminal elements, it will more than likely keep out law-abiding, talented, oppressed individuals who are fleeing unspeakable atrocities.
If they are Syrian, they are escaping government sanctioned annihilation; if they are Somalian, they are leaving behind bombing attacks and famine; if they are Yemeni, they are fleeing one of the poorest, most corrupt governments in the world; and the list goes on. If we came from any of these places or situations ourselves, would we not want to risk everything to find freedom and relief, too? Wouldn’t we want to leave behind the rubble of our cities and the constant terror of being shot by a sniper at any moment? Wouldn’t we want a chance to join our families who are already U.S. citizens or to seek citizenship ourselves, simply for the joy of feeling safe?
As an ordinary “B-Flat Christian,” I want to try to be a grace-giving neighbor to my Muslim neighbors here in south central Pennsylvania. I want to be empathetic to their situation and imagine how intimidating it would be to be the only Muslim place of worship in an area surrounded by a myriad of Christian churches.
I want them to know that they are welcome to worship in peace, and I will do my best to assure others in our neighborhood that it is our duty to do as Hebrews 13:1-2 instructs: “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” That’s the funny thing about angels — you never know if they might be wearing a crucifix or a hijab.
Some day we may indeed move, but I can assure you, it won’t be because there is a mosque in my backyard.