Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on our country, I was wondering like every other American, "What can I do?" On Thursday, I was driving to the Cathedral Center to pick up some books at the bookstore. As I was going north on Degnan towards the Santa Monica Freeway, I heard a disturbing news report on the radio. It said that some students at a college in America had gone on a rampage tearing the veils off Muslim women and roughing them up. I had already heard previous reports of a growing number of threats against Muslims in America.
I felt so powerless. I couldn't undo the horror of what the terrorists had done on Tuesday. Now I couldn't think of what to do to stop the so called "Christians" in America from attacking innocent Muslims. Suddenly, I remembered a mosque I had seen by USC at the corner of Vermont and Exposition Blvd. In the two years that I have lived in LA, I had driven past that mosque a hundred times. I had often thought that someday I'd call them and introduce myself or make an appointment to see their mullah or imam or take my youth group to visit there, but I never had followed through.
I turned right to head towards the mosque. I thought that I would go in and invite their people to come to our parish the next day for our silent prayer vigil. I wondered if I shouldn't call first to make an appointment, but then I realized that time was short. I decided to just go by and see who was there.
As I walked up the steps to the mosque, I felt rather odd. I wasn't even sure if it was a mosque. Perhaps is was just an Islamic student center attached to USC. Perhaps they were extremist Muslims who didn't like Christians. Did anyone here speak English? How would they react on this day to a priest in his clericals walking in unannounced?
I went in the door and found myself in a reception lobby. Across the lobby, I saw two young men who appeared to be in their twenties and physically appeared (to this White, native born Texan) to be Arabs. They were both casually dressed in white T-shirts and blue jeans. One was sitting behind the reception desk and the other was standing in front of it.
I walked to the desk and introduced myself telling them the name of my parish. They looked at me somewhat puzzled. The receptionist asked what I wanted. In a fumbling way, I tried to say that I just decided to come over on the spur of the moment, introduce myself, and see if there was someone there in charge with whom I could speak. The two young men were very polite, but obviously puzzled as to just what my purpose was since I clearly had no appointment, knew no one there, and seemed a bit confused myself as to what I was doing there.
The receptionist explained that there was no one there except for the two of them. He said that all the rest of the staff was at a meeting with other mosque leaders somewhere else in town, but that they would be back after 3 PM. I told them I was on my way to the Cathedral Center and would come back after 3 PM. The two men looked at each other in a puzzled way again and asked me for more details as to who I was, what my clergy credentials were, my denomination, etc.
The receptionist then stood up, came out from behind the reception desk carrying a camera and asked if he could take my picture. I thought that was very odd as no one at a reception desk had ever asked to take my picture. I mean, I'm not all that photogenic!
Then I suddenly thought, "Oh, Sweet Jesus! They think I'm some sort of right wing Christian religious fanatic who's come in to look around and find a good place to plant the bombs when I come back tonight to blow up the mosque. Then, if anything does happen to the mosque, they'll have a picture of me to show to the FBI."
However, I figured that it would only make matters worse if I refused or questioned them, so I agreed. I asked the receptionist where he wanted me to stand for the photo.
He handed the camera to the other man, walked over next to me and said, "Stand here next to me." Then, he looked at me with this wonderful, delighted smile and added, "My mother is going to love this photo when she sees it!"
I said, "Excuse me? Your mother? What's she got to do with this?"
He then said that his mother lived in Morocco. She had called him the night before, crying hysterically and begged him to leave America and come home that very day. She told him that everyone in Morocco had heard that the Christians in America were about to round up all the Muslims in America and murder them. He said that when she saw this photo, she would have proof that the Christians in America were good people, that he was safe, and that Americans would stand up for each other no matter what their religion or race or country of origin.
as he told me this, I was doing the best I could to choke back the tears. I had walked up the stairs to the mosque rather nervously and uncomfortable with meeting these "strangers" only to find that they feared that I, as a Follower of Jesus Christ, might want to murder them.
As the young man stood next to me, he turned and asked if I minded him putting his arm around my shoulder. I told him I welcomed the gesture and asked if I could put my arm around his shoulder. He was delighted and said I could. The other man with the camera looked into the view finder and told us each to say "Peace."
The man next to me grinned and said, "Peace," as he held up two fingers in the "Peace Sign" so familiar to me as an aging hippie. At the same moment, I decided to say peace in Arabic, which is "Sallam." But when I spoke as the other man was saying, "Peace," in English, the word that came out of my mouth was, "Shalom," which is "peace" in Hebrew.
The camera flash went off, and hearing what I had said, They both hugged me as I kept saying, "I meant 'sallam,' I meant 'sallam!'" And we all laughed, probably for the first time since Tuesday.
The psychotic servants of satan who sought to divide America and throw us into chaos have been the unwitting instruments of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. In the months and years to come, I know that the ties and friendships between that mosque by USC and my parish will multiply and grow.
Romans 8: 28 "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."
Peace, Father James Lee Walker +, Rector
Christ the Good Shepherd Parish (Episcopal/Anglican)
Los Angeles, California, America, Planet Earth, The Milky Way Galaxy, Creation
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