Written by Michelle May
"Please don't let this be related to Islam."
Ranya Idliby prayerfully clung to that hope when she heard that airplanes had slammed into the Twin Towers on Sept., 11, 2001.
Idliby, an American Muslim of Palestinian descent, was barraged by questions – about Islam, about God and about death – from her children, the only Muslims in their classrooms. Inspired by a story about Muhammad, Ranya reached out to two other mothers – one Christian, one Jewish – to try to understand and answer those questions.
The result was a book titled The Faith Club, co-authored by Idliby, Suzanne Oliver and Priscilla Warner. As part of Suncoast Saturday at General Synod 28, an hour-long readers' theater presentation of the book was given in Ballroom B of the Tampa Convention Center.
Early on, it is apparent that Ranya (played by Umnia Khan of Orlando), Oliver (the Rev. Mary Blocher of Leesburg, Fla.) and Warner (Phyllis Lowe, The Villages, Fla.) need an open environment to exchange concerns, stereotypes and misunderstandings about each other. A great deal of soul-searching later, the three grow begin to explore what unites them.
The authors wrestle with the issues of anti-Semitism, prejudice against Muslims, and preconceptions of Christians in a post-Sept. 11 era when fundamentalists dominate much of the public face of Christianity. They write of their families, losses, grief, fears and hopes for themselves and their loved ones. As layers of belief are examined – some peeled away for good – a new way of relating to others is born.
A Kansas City resident, Mary was raised Catholic and is now Episcopalian. She was "intrigued" when she met Ranya, wondering about oft-reported phrases and behaviors attributed to Muslims – "an eye for an eye," polygamy, women being stoned and Koran-inspired attacks.
Phyllis, self-described as suffering from 35 years of severe panic attacks even before Sept. 11, is a Jewish woman now living in constant "low grade" panic. She once removed a picture of Jesus from her hotel room wall, in part because, "I didn't want a dead guy hanging over my bed."
Saturday's presentation represented about one-quarter of the book. In the final chapter, the co-authors offer advice on starting a faith club – the questions to ask, the books to read and the open-minded attitude to maintain to come through the experience with an enriched personal faith and understanding of others.
For more information on the book, log on to thefaithclub.com.