When the series of coordinated bombings went off in Paris in November of 2015, the world was shocked and horrified. But the image that resonated in the days following was that of hundreds of people standing in line to give blood to help the wounded. This image says something about our human capacity to care for our neighbors despite our differences—and it is this capacity that was on display that very same month when residents of Moldaw Residences began to build a relationship with the members of the mosque across the street.
According to Naazmin Khan, Sales Coordinator for Moldaw Residences, her residents’ interest in Palo Alto’s Hatemi Masjid began five years ago, but the media’s interest in the neighbors began earlier. “While we were being built, between 2008 and 2009, there was talk about a mosque going up across the street.” Khan says that the media was very interested in the story because of the differences in religious background. “We saw headlines like ‘Mosque going up across the street from Jewish community center.’ etcetera.”
When Moldaw opened for business in 2009, residents expressed interest in learning more about their neighbors. “I was approached by the residents, a few of them actually, to see if we can get a tour together and see if they would allow us to come and visit and talk to them.” According to Khan, arranging that first meeting after the mosque opened in early 2015 was difficult precisely because of a similarity between the two groups. Like Moldaw residents, the mosque members had busy daily schedules. But she finally arranged a tour in November of 2015.
“We walked across the street and were greeted by Zoaib Rangwala, the secretary of the community.” She says he began the visit by speaking for a bit about the culture, the religion, and representations of Islam. Then, he toured them around the mosque, explaining the significance of certain architectural elements and answering questions along the way.
“It was very interesting. It’s beautiful inside, very simplistic. The residents thought the tour was fabulous.” She said that they asked many questions about the faith and were “really quite taken with it.” After the tour, there was additional time for more questions and answers. Khan says that it was a great way to open a dialogue between the two groups.
Because this initial meeting happened right after the Paris terrorist attacks, it was covered in local media. Khan says that, although the timing was just a coincidence, the story of two communities coming together was so compelling that it was televised. In a video clip of the telecast, Zoaib Rangwala says to the visitors from Moldaw, “Islam is a religion of peace. Salaam—our greeting—means ‘peace.’ We do not associate with such people or organizations that commit barbarous acts of killing and destruction in the name of the religion, and we strongly denounce them.” Khan says, “It was a healing moment for everyone to hear.”
After the tour, the residents were insistent on returning the favor. They asked Khan to help them schedule a lunch for members of the mosque at Moldaw, which happened in February of 2016. “We had about six or eight members of the mosque that came for lunch with the residents, and then we had a question-and-answer session. Other residents that were unable to join us for lunch were able to come in and meet with the members of the mosque at that time.”
She adds that Moldaw is a pretty intellectual community and the residents have busy daily lives. “There’s hardly anybody in the community during the daytime. But in this case, they made time to be there, to speak to them, so that shows the level of interest. In all, about 40 residents attended.”
And the residents are leading the way to continue nurturing the relationship. Khan says there’s nothing on the calendar yet, but she’s sure they will set up another meeting soon. “The first step was touring the mosque, then having lunch here. We have a couple of residents who are really involved in this, they’re always checking up and saying, ‘Let’s do this! Let’s do that!’,” she says, laughing.
While the timing of the initial meeting was purely coincidental, it was a moment of healing for both groups. The relationship being built between the members of Hatemi Masjid and the residents of Moldaw is a perfect illustration of our capacity to overcome differences, find commonality, and celebrate diversity at every age.
This article was originally published in CALA News & Views, Winter 2017: Engage.