The Lord works in mysterious ways.
On Thursday I spoke to a local imam about Islamophobia in Oklahoma and America. On Friday, a white supremacist attacked mosques in New Zealand, killing 50 people because of their religion.
This isn't a new problem, but as a long as the growth of white supremacy is ignored and goes unchecked, attacks like the one on Friday in New Zealand will continue.
How can we forget the initial reports after the Oklahoma City Bombing identified middle eastern suspects? Isn't it odd that a bombing carried out by homegrown white terrorists was initially pinned on someone with darker skin? After the Sept. 11 attacks, Islamaphobia went from the back burner to front and center.
Imad Enchassi, the imam for the Islamic Center of Oklahoma City and the Mercy Chair of Islamic Studies at Oklahoma City University, sat in a meeting where a former state legislator called him the No. 1 terrorist in Oklahoma and accused the Christian and other pastors in the ministerial alliance of being complicit. John Bennett is back in Sallisaw and not harassing peaceful Muslims at the State Capitol anymore, but that doesn't change what happened.
Even today, the President pushed and supports a "Muslim ban" stopping any immigration from predominantly Muslim countries - even though the ban doesn't include Saudi Arabia where most of the actual 9/11 terrorists came from. That seems like an important loophole. He even called for Judge Jeanine Pirro to be excused from her FOX News suspension after comments on her show where she attacked a Mulsim member of Congress and questioned whether wearing a hijab was unconstitutional.
People are all for religious freedom for their own religions. That support shrinks when beliefs don't align with their own.
Enchassi understands the battle he is really fighting is far more than a misguided administration trying to keep people safe. Islamaphobia is an industry. Keeping people afraid and promising to protect them from a chosen boogeyman is political pablum. People respond to fear. It is insincere and cynical. But it is effective.
Enchassi is no stranger to religion being used as a weapon instead of for worship. He was raised in a refugee camp in Lebanon after his parents had fled Palestine. He is still haunted by memories of "Christian Phalangists" attacking his camp in 1982. He hid in a chimney for a day and a half hearing men outside invoking the name of Jesus and the Virgin Mary while they shot, stabbed and hacked to death between 1,500 and 3,000 men, women and children in the camp.
Recalling the story still evokes emotions to this day.
Fortunately, that wasn't the only interaction Enchassi had with Christians in the refugee camp. His teacher was a Lebanese nun named Samiera Abou Rahma - her name "Rahma" means mercy.
She showed Enchassi love and support during his time in school. One of his memories is her walking to the school and using her taxi fare to buy sugar candy for the students.
"She cared. She loved us," he said. "Love is contagious."
Because of her impact on his young life, now every time Enchassi participates in a charitable project in the Muslim community in Oklahoma City, it is named for her.
"Everything I do in Oklahoma is called Mercy, named for a Christian nun," Enchassi said.
Enchassi felt the sting of Christian extremists killing his friends and family. As a Muslim in the United States as an adult, he has felt the sting of Islamaphobia. But like "Ms. Mercy" in his refugee school, he has seen the kindness of people of other faiths in Oklahoma.
The Interfaith Alliance has rallied around Enchassi and his mosque, protecting them during worship, ensuring that he had a chance to pray before legislative sessions, and keeping him secure despite receiving multiple death threats.
The Islamic Society of Oklahoma City runs a food pantry, medical clinics and many other local missions all named for Ms. Mercy.
"We are very grassroots," Enchassi said. "We concentrate on social relevance for all of our programs so we can practice what we preach and repel hate with love."
He tells a story of a man who was part of a militia group protesting Sharia Law on their property. One of the men had a mole on his face and they told him he should have it checked out. He didn't have insurance, so the community brought him into their medical clinic and he is still being treated there to this day.
Another victory of love over hate was when a black member of their mosque was working at the food pantry when a grandmother came in to get food for her grandchildren. She saw the woman working and said, "Black and a Muslim, I would rather starve."
Instead of being offended or angry, the woman packaged four boxes of groceries and took them to her car.
"She told the woman, 'You don't have to like me, but feed these children,'" Enchassi said.
Religious extremists shouldn't be used to define any religion - whether it is Baptists and the Westboro Baptist Church or Muslims and the radicals who commit acts of terror in the name of their religion.
Enchassi soon will be releasing a book, and a documentary about his life will be out in a few months. Hopefully, both will help replace the hateful words and fear mongering that surrounds Islam in America and around the world.
Religious freedom isn't just for white protestant Christians. To protect any religion, we have to protect them all.
As a Christian, our calling is to live like Jesus Christ. We need to raise up more people to carry on the legacy of Ms. Mercy and fewer who use religion to hurt others.