Meeting invites dialogue about IslamHundreds attend mostly peaceful forum at Mukilteo church
In the wake of President Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries as well as all refugees, nearly 200 people gathered Jan. 28 in Mukilteo for a forum on the tenets of Islam and its place in the community.
“We are less than 24 hours removed from an executive order being signed that allows only Christians to come from these seven countries,” guest speaker and co-organizer Rev. Terry Kyllo told an audience at Pointe of Grace Lutheran Church, adding that such actions are fueled by a growing sense of Islamaphobia in the U.S.
“More than $57 million has gone toward funding Islamophobia in the U.S. between 2001 and 2012. Islamophobia preaches that Muslims aren’t American, that they are terrorists, that Islam is a violent ideology and that Islam is planning to take over America.”
The event was a partnership between the church and members of the Islamic Center of Mukilteo, which plans to build a mosque in Mukilteo. It featured six guest speakers who discussed peaceful messages in Islam.
Mohammed Khan, the man in charge of the mosque project, gave an update on the project, saying construction would begin as soon as the city issues a land-use permit.
After the meeting, Khan was smiling.
“I feel wonderful,” he said. “It was great. A lot of people showed up. People have questions, and we have answers.”
Members of the audience listened respectfully throughout most of the meeting. Toward the end, however, a handful of people began asking questions about whether the speakers follow Sharia Law and how the Islamic Center would handle a suspected terrorist in their midst.
Toward the end, a few of those people, who had expressed support for President Trump’s executive order earlier in the meeting, became disruptive, yelling across the room.
That’s when Kyllo closed out the meeting by leading the audience in singing “We Shall Overcome.”
Despite the hostility of a few, Kyllo said he appreciated the audience.
“It was a wonderful turnout,” he said. “We must have had 175 to 200 people here, and it was a really good crowd. They listened well. We had some good questions toward the end and there was some debate going on, but I felt everyone handled it all pretty well, really.”
Paul Kramer of Mukilteo said he came to the meeting to show his support for the mosque project. After the meeting, he said he wished those who posed hostile questions would have kept a more open mind.
“There were people who were asking questions, [people] that seemed to me to have very strong, rigid opinions that made it difficult for them to hear or listen,” Kramer said. “I would have liked to see people ask questions from a place of curiosity and openness to learning.”
Kramer said he wants Mukilteo to be a healthy, robust community that welcomes Muslims.
“I would like to see us create a community where it’s safe for Muslims and non-Muslims to live here,” he said. “I would like to see a welcoming and diverse community here in Mukilteo.”
Kyllo said Christians and Muslims have more in common than some may realize.
“A woman 2,000 years ago wore a hijab,” he said. “Who was that woman? Mary, Jesus’ mother.”
Kyllo is the director of Neighbors in Faith, a group that works to bring people of different faiths together by leading sermons and discussions in churches throughout the northwest.
Kyllo noted that Muslim-majority countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh have had female presidents, unlike the U.S.
“Don’t confuse religion with culture,” he said.
Other speakers included Paul Ingram, a professor at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, who talked about the similarities between Christianity, Judaism and Islam, especially with regard to their respective holy books.
“We are all in this together,” Ingram said. “There are more similarities between the three religions than there are differences.”
Amanda Smith, a convert to Islam who teaches elementary Arabic in Kirkland, also spoke.
“You may think this is a weird name for a Muslim,” Smith said. “That’s because I’m a white girl from Utah.”
Smith spoke at length about how Muslims are not violent like many believe, saying Islam is a peaceful religion and that’s what drew her to it.
“We are not all violent people,” she said. “I, as a Muslim, don’t feel I have the right to blow up a building to get you to see my beliefs.”
The guest speakers stayed at the church after the meeting to answer audience questions, which came both from people expressing support for the mosque and those who expressed opposition.
“Let [Trump] build the walls,” Khan said. “We will build the bridges. Muslims and Christians are brothers and sisters. Change will only come if we work together.”