In order to begin a conversation that dispels misconceptions about Islam, a Sunday night study group of Extravagance United Church of Christ, the geographically dispersed and online-based congregation, has started a weekly dialogue about the world’s second-largest and fastest-growing faith tradition. The study group decided it wanted to learn more about Islam to "better understand the faith and be a supportive voice for the many Muslims in our country and abroad who are peaceful, God-loving, humanity-loving people," explained the Rev. Jo Hudson, founding pastor of Extravagance UCC since its formation in 2013.
"Some of our participants who are active in our Sunday evening Bible study, Extravagance — The Transforming Word, began a chat group, and that morphed into a Facebook group, and in their chatting, they realized that many of them had differing views about Islam, based on current events, and some really didn’t know much about Islam at all," said Hudson. "They then decided that the best thing to do was to study and discuss it together."
The study group meets for one hour, beginning at 9 p.m. (ET) on Tuesdays, using a book, Islam: A Concise Introduction, by Hutson Smith, to guide the discussion, but reading the book isn’t a prerequisite to joining the conversation. Hudson said there are six regular participants, but she is encouraging more people to join. The platform they use to meet, zoom.us, can accommodate up to 25 participants and can expand beyond that if necessary.
The book examines the tradition, which has about 1.6 billion adherents around the world, and dispels narrow views of the Muslim faith and looks at timely issues such as the true meaning of "jihad," the role of women in Islamic society, and the growth of Islam in America.
Among the reasons the study group wanted to expand its knowledge of Islam, Hudson said that current events were a factor. "Particularly issues being brought up in the presidential election regarding Muslims, both within and coming into our country as refugees," she said. "Also, the rise of ISIS-ISIL and the violence both at home and abroad."
The group will continue its discussion of Islam through Sunday, Jan. 31, when it hosts Imam Zafar Anjum, who leads the Frisco Mosque, in Frisco, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. That gathering will take place at 7:30 p.m. (ET) and will last about an hour, with a possible follow-up conversation on Feb. 1. From there, Hudson said the study group will discuss "how to go forward, to continue a discussion on Islam, perhaps including how we can actively support a more generous and peaceful message about Islam in our country, or whether to move to another world religion. The group decides collectively how to proceed."
Said Hudson, "This is exactly the kind of thing that Extravagance wants to do — to involve and engage people in meaningful online study, prayer, worship that expands our hearts for God and God’s people, and that multiplies according to where the Spirit leads us."