All it took was a genuine letter for coexistence between Christians and Muslims sent from student Mariam Khan to her Professor Nita Thomason and the rest is history. Today they still meet, a group of Muslim and Christian women whose quest is understanding each other’s faiths and building bridges between Muslims and Christians.
Letters for Change
2015 San Bernardino Shootings
Hope this finds you in best of health and spirit.
I am your student Mariam Khan, I took EDUC class back in 2014 with you in Collin College. It was a wonderful learning experience.
I am sure you are following what is happening these days with regards to hate crime against Muslims and the hate we have been facing these days.
I remember you mentioned that you volunteer at a Church close to Shiloh. I am very much interested to meet with you (and your Church group) and hear your thoughts on how we can bridge the gap that has been created because of too much hatred and racism due to recent incident [San Bernardino].
I am sure you agree that we should do something about this division created based on religion and race which is absolutely against the teachings of Christianity and Islam. We as Muslims are dealing with double impact, one, we are equally concerned about increase in terrorism and two, we have to bear with this bigotry and hatred from citizens of our own country, for the crimes we have no clues who has committed on using their twisted mindset.
Let me know if me and my friends can come over to your Church to meet. You are most welcome to come and meet us at our Islamic Center in East Plano [Texas].
I am so delighted to get this email from you!! Thank you for writing. I would definitely like to visit with you about
this. I have several friends at church who are equally concerned about this spirit of fear and hate. Let me talk to
them about ways we might be able to do something productive about this and get back with you soon.
I am so glad that I saw your message because I haven’t been checking my college email since posting grades. I’ve actually been working alongside a group of concerned people of faith, including Imam Shpendim Nadzaku from Richardson, [Texas] in trying to build understanding among people.
Also yesterday a friend and I met with three of our churches pastors about this same subject.
We have also become friends with a new family that has resettled here from Syria. It will likely be after the holidays before we can set anything up; but let’s do it!! Hope to see you soon.
Monthly Coexisting Luncheons
Indeed they did do something, some friends of Mariam and Nita from both Abrahamic faiths started getting together in what became Monthly Coexisting Luncheons. I took the opportunity to know more about these gatherings by interviewing Beth Barron and Sadia Ashraf.
Suzana: What made you join this coexisting luncheon between Christian and Muslim ladies?
Beth: I have been a part of this group of friends since its inception. My friend Nita Thomason and I wrote about it together in a blog posted in July. Here is an excerpt from what we wrote:
“A short time after the San Bernardino shooting shocked the U.S., one of my former students contacted me (Nita) through email. She remembered discussions from a class I teach at an area community college about building understanding and respect among people of various perspectives. My student, Mariam, expressed concern about the growing bitterness and the misconceptions in the national dialogue about Muslims. She wanted my friends to get to know her friends, in order to promote understanding between us. Mariam’s idea has grown into a monthly lunch that has built bridges between the Muslims and Christians in our group.
“Our group of devout Christian and Muslim women meets every month. The hostess welcomes our multi-ethnic, multi generational group to a table in her home heaped with food. Sometimes we enjoy biryani; other times we sample American soups or eat a Turkish stew with mint- and dill-spiked yogurt. Together we laugh and talk while friendships flourish.”
Sadia: This interfaith friendship group came about in spring of 2016 from the friendship of Mariam Obaid with Nita Thomason (who was an instructor of a class that Mariam was taking in college)… Mariam invited Nita for lunch and Nita brought along a couple of friends and when Nita reciprocated with a lunch invitation to her house, Mariam invited me and a couple of sisters along too. Since then, we have been alternating at a Muslim friend’s house and a Christian friend’s house for lunches (mostly first Tuesday of the month). We even met at the arboretum once to enjoy the beautiful spring bloom this year.
Suzana: How do these gatherings enrich you?
Beth: It is a gathering of dear friends to me. We live in a very diverse country. Our country’s motto is “E pluribus unum.” Our group is a microcosm of that motto “out of many, one.”
As women, we have many things in common, as well as many differences. Yet, we can enjoy each other and talk honestly together, exploring both our commonalities and our differences. I am sad that many Americans have a negative view of Muslims, yet most do not even know one Muslim. I would love it if more people would take time to get to know people different from them and find out that they have many of the same hopes, dreams and desires. This will help break down unnecessary barriers.
Sadia: Our discussions are mostly based on topics like the prophets in Quran and Bible (Prophet Adam, Nuh, Ibrahim, Lut, Dawood, Sulayman, Yusuf, etc.) During Valentine’s Day it was even on “concept of friendship” or “concept of love” in our religion. During “women’s day”, we discussed rights of women in our faiths.
Suzana: How has your perception about Muslims changed since your meetings?
Beth: Well, I already had a very positive view of Muslims because I lived in Turkey for over a decade and I teach refugees—many of whom are Muslims. However getting to know Mariam and the other ladies has broadened my understanding of the diversity of beliefs among Muslims.
Suzana: How has your perception about Christians changed since your meetings?
Sadia: It has helped me feel better about my neighbors and the community I live in. Also helped me feel better about letting others know who Muslims really are, not what the media portrays them as. I told them in our last meeting that “no matter what anyone tells me about Christians, I know (by meeting them in person) that Christians are all about ‘love thy neighbor'”
So that’s why these meetings are so important to show by example and by getting to know them and letting them get to know us and dispel the misconceptions about Muslims that the general public has due to lack of knowledge and the misrepresentation in the media.