“Do we have to take off our shoes?” “What do we have to wear?” “Are the men and women separate during prayer?” Funny that those were the questions we interfaith leaders of my little Rockwellian town of Kearny in New Jersey preoccupied ourselves with. We were hastening through a conference call to get ready for the New Zealand memorial service at the local mosque. All of a sudden, we Kearny Interfaith Network members felt our lack of knowledge, our fears of inadvertently giving offense, and yes, our curiosity, as we discussed how we could help at a place we were attending for the first time within a day of the Christchurch tragedy.
When we arrived, the mosque members were almost baffled at the number of Jews and Christians suddenly In their midst to offer solace; they have been so used to keeping hidden and quiet out of fear of anti-Muslim sentiment. Even their building, a white home I have passed on the way to work over and over, never gave off a hint that it was a house of worship, let alone a mosque. I never even had noticed it before on this heavily industrialized street. Now, an ample number of polite but watchful policemen stood at the entrance and waited in their cars on the street, and a sign sprouted up along their fence that proclaimed, “New Zealand Candlelight Vigil.” But the Muslim community was glad that a rabbi, priest and pastors along with members of our congregations came to be with them and make speeches of support. And I was comforted when one of their own leaders spoke about the Pittsburgh synagogue and the Texas Baptist church tragedies and how we of all faiths would all stand with each other for peace and freedom. The mosque members are isolated no longer, and they are already planning to invite us to their happier occasions as we prepare to host them at our own houses of worship.