A Tennessee pastor startled his neighborhood, his congregation and local Muslims when he invited the local Islamic community to celebrate Ramadan inside his church.
Their own cultural center was under construction nearby. So, Pastor Steve Stone offered the main sanctuary at his 550-member Heartsong Church in Cordova, a Memphis suburb, as a place for Muslim faithful to pray during the holy week of Ramadan 2010.
It sparked an unusual alliance that’s still strong a year later, reports National Public Radio.
“Obviously we were taken aback, but in a very positive way,” said Danish Siddiqui, a board member of the Memphis Islamic Center. On the NPR program “All Things Considered,” he told guest host Laura Sullivan, “Muslims, we tend to think of ourselves as good neighbors, but Steve beat us to the punch.”
The Muslim community was building a new mosque, but it was a delicate time. Proposed Islamic centers were kicking up controversy from New York to Murfreesboro — another Tennessee town just 200 miles away from Cordova.
“We were looking at some close-by halls and rental spaces and none of them were available,” Siddiqui says. They asked Stone if they could borrow a small space inside his Heartsong Church. “He said, ‘No. You’re going to pray in our main worship space.’”
“We were so honored to be asked, because we knew that if they ever had any thought that we would say no, they would not have asked us,” Stone says.
Not everyone was as thrilled as Stone however. He received criticism from colleagues — and even members of his own church — who felt that he was blending Christianity and Islam. Ultimately, 20 members left his church.