So at 6:55 pm last Saturday I spotted online notice that one of my favorite authors, Norman Finkelstein, would be speaking at 7 pm at a mosque about 40 miles from me. So I jumped in the car and got there near 8 and people were just lining up to get something to eat. Apparently it was dinner and the lecture. The lecture hadn't yet begun.
There was a man at the entrance to the room with a clip board and a jar labeled "Flood Relief for Pakistan" with some money in it. And I asked him if this talk was open to the general public. "Sure" he said. "Is there a fee?" I asked. "Donations only, but don't you worry about that." Well, I gave him $10 anyway and stepped through the door. Immediately a man motioned to me to come with him. So I started following him and he's leading me to the front of the food line. It's obvious that I'm a visitor since I'm the only person that I see that has a white face. I'm kind of embarrassed saying that I'd rather go to the end of the line, but he insisted and he inserts me in front of a man who smiles and grabs a plate for me. He tells me that when I get my food please have a seat towards the front where I'll have a good view. Then another man approaches me just to check and see if I know what the food is so that I can get what I like. As I work down the line he's telling me what everything is. This is spicy, this is more mild, etc. I ended up grabbing a seat that wasn't all the way to the front and sat with a couple of people. The more elderly gentlemen starts conversing with me. Everyone was just as gracious as could possibly be.
I understand that Islam is a religion that is growing rapidly and I can see why. The mainstream portrayal of Islam is so negative. In fact I had planned to go with my family to a mosque on Friday for prayers just so they could experience it, kind of as an education thing. Christian friends and even atheist friends react kind of like that's some sort of dangerous thing. What I could see happening is when a person that is religious oriented experiences Islam, which in reality is so much more positive than they expect, they're probably a little shocked and greatly impressed. Perhaps this tends to draw them in.