Would you lend out your place of worship to any other religion? Or even other denominations for that matter? Do you think Christ would really want you lend out those things which you claim to worship God with to those that do not worship God?
Franklin – Each Sunday, children gather in the fellowship hall at Faith Presbyterian Church to ponder the lessons of Christianity, among them, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Now the church is setting a real-life example for the kids, by opening its Sunday school space to its Muslim neighbors for two of their five daily prayers.
Faith Presbyterian becomes the third satellite prayer center for area Muslims who wish to pray communally but may not be able to get across town to one of the four area mosques. The other prayer sites are at Waukesha Memorial Hospital and the Muslim Student Center on Milwaukee’s east side.
“We’re very grateful to the church,” said Ajaz Qhavi, a Franklin physician and Muslim who worked with church officials on behalf of the Islamic Center of Milwaukee.
Faith Presbyterian’s pastor, the Rev. Deb Bergeson-Graham, welcomed the visitors as an opportunity for her congregation to live their Christian faith.
“I think we’re doing this, not because of what they believe, but because of what we believe,” said Bergeson-Graham. “It’s what Christ would have us do.”
About 150 Muslim families live within a two-mile radius of the church at 3800 W. Rawson Ave., according to Qhavi.
The obligation to pray five times daily – at dawn, midday, mid-afternoon, sunset and before bed – is among the five pillars of Islam.
The prayers, which contain verses from the Qur’an and are said in Arabic, can be spoken anywhere – at home, outside, at the airport, said Islamic Center Executive Director Isa Sadlon.
But many Muslims prefer to pray with others, and five daily trips to the mosque can be burdensome. The prayer centers, he said, allow them to meet their obligations closer to home or work.
Since last week, Muslims can gather at Faith Presbyterian for the dawn and nightfall prayers Monday through Friday. The Islamic Center is paying a nominal rental fee to cover church expenses.
“We didn’t want this to be about profit-making,” said Franklin Municipal Judge Fred Klimetz, who sits on the church’s governing Session.
Faith Presbyterian isn’t the first church to open its doors to Milwaukee-area Muslims. Before the Islamic Center purchased its building in 1982, it conducted its Friday congregational prayers in the basement of Kenwood United Methodist Church near the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said Islamic Society of Milwaukee President Othman Atta.
Faith Presbyterian’s decision to welcome its Muslim neighbors drew overwhelming – though not universal – support from parishioners, according to Bergeson-Graham.
One older member, who’s been with the church for about a decade, strongly objected.
“I told him, ‘I’m sorry you feel this way, and I hope you continue to worship with us,’ ” she said.
Sadlon wasn’t surprised.
“This has been true throughout the whole history of Islam,” said Sadlon, who was raised Catholic but converted to Islam about 20 years ago.
“We don’t take it personally. Sometimes your worst enemy becomes your best friend. But it takes time.”