Living in Northern Ohio at the turn of century, I don’t think my grandfather knew any Muslims. Nevertheless, I was reminded of my grandfather while attending the 10th annual Community Iftar at the SALAM community center last week.
Every year during the month of Ramadan, devout Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset and then break their fast with an evening meal called iftar. Once a year, the Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims invites various community members to join them for iftar. They take this opportunity to share a wonderful meal with us, and we hear about Islamic traditions. I have learned much about the tradition of prayer, fasting and doing charitable deeds during Ramadan. I’ve immensely enjoyed attending many of these community iftars over the last 10 years. And this year, I was also able to see the beautiful new mosque, nearing completion.
What a contrast it was to be here in Sacramento celebrating a new mosque, while the rest of our country is so divided about building a mosque in New York City. While the controversy about whether to build a mosque near the former site of the twin towers was not discussed at the podium, it was certainly discussed at the table. I was saddened to see my Muslim friends so hurt by this controversy. It was then I remembered my grandfather.
I never knew my grandfather. He died when my dad was still a child, so I have only heard a few stories about him. Sometime in the early 1960s, my aunt and uncles mentioned to me that my grandfather had a hard time in World War I because of his German surname. I still remember how angry my family members were that anyone could doubt their love for America. Some 40 years later, they were still upset and hurt. It was also the first time I learned I had a German last name. I had always thought I had an American name.
Part of our greatness as a country is our diversity. However, it is also part of our tradition that group after group of immigrants have been persecuted, in some of our country’s most shameful moments.
Unfortunately, we are doing it again. The clowns at Fox News, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich have created an uproar about building an Islamic cultural center and mosque near ground zero. Would we be offended by a Lutheran church near Arlington National Cemetery? Should we protest a Buddhist temple near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial? Would we object to a Southern Baptist church near Gettysburg? I think not.
Talking to my friends at the iftar, I saw patriotic Americans who love their country deeply. I understood how my grandfather felt, being accused of something he hadn’t done. And I thought, looking around the room at Muslim and non-Muslim faces, that we were celebrating the best of American values, understanding the similarities that join us as humans, rather than the differences that can divide us.