By Tom Holmes
Pastor Walter Mitty told the Wednesday morning men's fellowship group about his encounter with Amunet at the Retro. "She's an Islamic scholar who is teaching for a year at UIC," he said. "Teaching courses that compare Islam, Christianity and Judaism."
Pastor Walt waited for Alice to finish pouring coffee and taking orders before continuing. "What was interesting to me is what concerned her was the Trayvon Martin tragedy and not guilty verdict in George Zimmerman's trial. She worried that because she wore a hijab she might be targeted as a terrorist."
"I don't blame her one bit." Alice had gotten interested in the conversation and, as usual, was not shy about throwing in her own two cents. "She's a woman and a Muslim. I wouldn't trust the men in this country any further than I could throw them."
Four pairs of eyes turned toward their waitress with a look that said, "Don't you have someone else to wait on?" But the Main Café wasn't busy that morning, and it was clear that Alice was in the conversation for the duration. Then they looked at their pastor, wondering how he would defuse the tension.
It was Dominique, however, who intervened. "I've been working with a Muslim from Croatia," he began. "Nice guy and smart. We brought him in, because we needed someone who knows the European markets. At lunch we sometimes compare our religions."
"So, what did he say?" Alice suddenly changed from her "all men can go to hell" mode to being interested in Dominique's story.
The downtown banker looked around at Ash, Eric and his pastor for permission to go on. Seeing no objection, he continued, "Humayl—he said his name means companion of the Prophet, by the way—he said that Christianity and Islam both come from Judaism, and the main difference is that Muslim's think of Jesus as a prophet, not Lord and Savior like Christians do."
"That's what I heard in my world religions class in college," said Eric. "In terms of ethics, the two religions are very. . . ."
"Did you try to convert him?" asked Alice. "You Pentecostals are always doing that."
Dominique just shook his head and laughed. "Some of us who brought up in holiness churches actually try to get a person for a few days, and then we try to convert them!"
At that point, Father Bob Sullivan came in the door and the four men motioned for him to join them.
"So, what are the four smartest men in Poplar Park discussing today?"
"What have you been smoking Fr. Bob?" Alice wasn't going to let that opening pass by without a comment. "You're talking about Ash, Eric, the Rev and Mr. Brooks Brothers here."
"We're talking about my Muslim co-worker," replied Dominique as the Jesuit priest pulled a chair up to the booth. "Alice just asked if I tried to make a Christian out of him."
"That would be OK with me as long as you made him a Catholic," said Fr. Bob with a grin.
Even Alice had to laugh at that one.
Dominique continued, "What fascinated me was hearing him tell about Ramadan."
"That going on right now, isn't it?" asked Eric.
"That's right," answered Dominique, "and Humayl said he has to fast from dawn till nightfall. It's especially taxing, he said, when Ramadan comes in the summer, because the days are longer."
"I guess I should be thankful you guys are Christians," said Alice. "You guys are lousy tippers, but if you were Muslim you wouldn't be here at all and I'd be laid off for a month."
"See, Alice," responded Ash to their crotchety waitress, "this bunch of men is good for something." He paused and then added, "I've noticed a young Muslim mother at the swimming pool. She always wears a hijab and dresses modestly, and she dresses her ten year old daughter in a kind of under armor outfit which leaves only her feet, hands and head showing but allows her to enjoy being in the water. Even though I don't believe the same way she does, I really respect her for not caving into fashion in this society."
That made Fr. Bob say, "That made me think of something, Ash. Remember how Pope Francis washed the feet of a Muslim of a few months back? That made a big impression on me. When he did that, he wasn't implying that Islam and Christianity are the same. But I think he was trying to demonstrate that loving our neighbors is at the core of our faith. And he didn't talk about it. He did it."
"That's interesting, Padre," said Dominique, "because the more I listen to Humayl the more I respect him on the one hand and on the other hand the more I appreciate being a Christian."
"This may sound like I'm coming out of left field," added Eric, "but when we're playing sixteen inch softball it's the best teams that bring out the best in us. Maybe that's what's happening with Dominique. He's bumping up against a guy who takes his religion seriously, and the result is that Dominique respects him for his piety but at the same time he's forced to sort through his own faith, and in the process, he discovers what is good and meaningful in it."
As the meeting wound do and the men got up to go their separate ways, Pas56tor Walt noticed that Alice hadn't said a thing for a long time, and he wondered what that meant.