Not many people outside of Iowa are aware that the longest standing mosque in North America is in Cedar Rapids. It was built in 1934 by a local community of immigrants and their descendants from what is now Lebanon and Syria. My experience is that most Iowans are proud of this fact and of the surprise it brings to people who hear about its existence for the first time.
However, with Islamophobia rising across our land due largely to the Donald Trump presidency with his fear-mongering technique against all immigrants and his insistence in using the offensive phrase “radical ISLAMIC terrorism” (emphasis on the ISLAMIC), two Iowa women decided, over coffee, that they should do something about it. The younger woman, a lay person, said “Wouldn’t it be neat to form a Circle of Safety around the Mother Mosque in Cedar Rapids to show our solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters?” The second woman, an Episcopal priest from Grinnell, said, “Go for it” and got busy using her contacts to organize the event.
And so it was that I joined four hundred people from across Iowa and as far away as Chicago on a rainy Sunday afternoon for what turned out to be a glorious occasion. They arrived by the carload and parked up and down the side streets of the modest residential neighborhood where the Mother Mosque is located. There were tours of the tiny mosque, bottles of water and cookies and doughnuts to share. And then some brief addresses.
Imam Taha began by welcoming us all and thanking us for making the effort to be there. He was clearly moved by the turnout. A rabbi (college chaplain at Grinnell College) spoke of the need to stand together. The organizing Episcopal priest used Paul’s analogy of the body with many, diverse members as a metaphor for the American vision as well as for the church. A Hindu layman spoke of peace as did a Sikh woman. A representative from the Atheist Society was bold enough to point out that his group and Muslims were now the two most hated groups in America! And he pledged their support.
And, perhaps most movingly, a gentle woman from the Meskwaki nation near Tama, Iowa reminded us that, as the original residents of this land, they welcome us all here and that we need one another if we are to achieve God’s vision for the world. She spoke, as is her peoples’ custom, with eyes lowered in humility, but with a strong voice and powerful message.
We then sang “This Land Is Your Land” complete with a final verse I had never heard, written from the Native American perspective and included the refrain “this land was stole by you from me!” And, as we sang, we fanned out to ring the little mosque which sits in the middle of a manicured lawn and full city block. We were two and three deep, all around the perimeter, four hundred in all. And it was a beautiful thing to see.
A simple act. Not terribly risky. But a reminder of the better angels of our nature as Iowans…and as Americans…and as people of faith.
What is it about this vision that Donald Trump does not understand?