A Ramadan Story Of Two Faiths Bound In Friendship Muslims usually flock to their local mosques for Ramadan prayers, but last year, the Islamic community of Cordova, Tenn., didn't have a place to go. That's when Pastor Steve Stone put an unusual sign outside his church.
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A Ramadan Story Of Two Faiths Bound In Friendship

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A Ramadan Story Of Two Faiths Bound In Friendship

A Ramadan Story Of Two Faiths Bound In Friendship

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LAURA SULLIVAN, Host:

When a group of Muslims started building a mosque outside of Memphis, Tennessee a year ago, they weren't sure what to expect. The so-called ground zero mosque was kicking up controversy in New York, and in another Tennessee town just 200 miles away, an Islamic center's construction site was vandalized.

That didn't happen to the Memphis Islamic Center. In fact, when the mosque wasn't ready in time for the holy month of Ramadan, a Christian church down the street opened its doors and said, pray here. A few days ago, I caught up with Danish Siddiqui of the Islamic center and Steve Stone, the pastor of Heartsong Church. And Steve said this unusual alliance between them began with a sign he put up out by the road.

STEVE STONE: It said: welcome to the neighborhood, Memphis Islamic Center.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

STONE: It's been seen all over the world now.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SULLIVAN: Danish, what did you think when you saw that sign?

DANISH SIDDIQUI: Well, obviously, we were taken aback but in a very positive way. You know, Muslims, we tend to think of ourselves as good neighbors. But Steve beat us to the punch and put up that sign, and all we had to do was knock on the door and introduce ourselves. So we were elated.

SULLIVAN: So, Danish, you got into a little bit of a pinch where your Islamic center wasn't going to be ready in time for Ramadan, which is a really big deal because you need a place to pray during Ramadan.

SIDDIQUI: Exactly. Yeah. We were looking at some close-by halls and rental places and none of those things were available. And what we did was we approached Steve and Heartsong and asked if we could just borrow a small space in there. And he said, no. You're going to come in here and you're going to pray in the - our main worship space. Not only did they let us use it every night, but they were there every night and greeted us every night as we came in. By the end of the month, I think it was a very sentimental moment.

STONE: 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. So we were honored that they asked us.

SULLIVAN: Steve, how did your members take it?

STONE: We had about 20 out of 550 that left us. We had tried to work with them and help them think their way through it, but at the end of the day, if they really believed what they said they believed, we're kind of glad they left because we didn't want them going out into the community and saying we have these hateful feelings and we go to Heartsong Church.

SULLIVAN: I feel like a lot of, you know, church leaders, you know, would say that they believe in having this kind of community and this sense of community. But you guys actually did it, and it's not happening in all that many places. I'm trying to figure out exactly what it was. Was it the two of you? I mean, was it just that you guys became friends, that you guys hit it off? Is that the magic?

STONE: I don't know. I think it was just more that, you know, one of the basic tenets of our faith is to love our neighbors. You know, Jesus only taught two things and one of them is love your neighbors as you love yourself. And so it was just - it really was a no-brainer for us. This is what we've got to do. Now, how do we do it? That was the question.

SULLIVAN: Hmm. And you felt like all of your church members were behind you?

STONE: I felt like all but the 20 that left were behind us, yes. Absolutely.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

STONE: But we've forgiven them.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SULLIVAN: Some of the critics that - I mean, you got letters, calls from people all over the country commenting one way or the other on the situation. One of the criticisms that people leveled was that this was a blending of Christianity and Islam, and it wasn't appropriate. You know, how did you deal with that, Steve?

STONE: Well, we're sharing our faith. We're living out our faith. And they're doing exactly the same thing. It's easy to criticize something you don't know and say, well, if you knew our relationship, you would know that they're very clear that we are Jesus' followers and we're very clear that they are Muslim.

SIDDIQUI: Yeah, certainly. Even though we have different faith traditions, we don't deny that, right? We believe very different things. But at the same time, we know that we can get along. We know that we can work together. And we have respect for one another because we are people of faith.

SULLIVAN: That's Danish Siddiqui, board member of the Memphis Islamic Center, and his good friend Pastor Steve Stone of Heartsong Church in Cordova, Tennessee. Guys, thanks so much for being here.

SIDDIQUI: Thank you.

STONE: Yeah. My pleasure.

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