Saturday, September 11, 2010

A tale of naivety and risk? - How my 9/11 morning went

Amazing morning I had today.

So I had thought, "How can I send the Muslim community a message that most Christians would not burn a Quran? How can I let them know that, as far as it depends on us, we will live at peace and welcome anyone who comes to us?" Especially because that so-called pastor in Florida was threatening to burn the Quran. I wanted to send a better message.

I remember after so many tragedies around the world, people left flowers outside embassies. I remember after a tragedy at NASA, people left flowers outside of JSC. So I thought, "I'll leave flowers outside the gates of the local mosque on 9/11. That way the Muslim community will know that there is another reaction to Islam."

I bought flowers -- plenty of flowers, I thought -- and went early on 9/11 to the nearest mosque. I was wondering if I would see anyone there and have a chance to explain the gift, but I didn't see anyone.

I had been hoping to see someone so I could explain, but I settled for just leaving the flowers outside the gate, hoping that flowers as a goodwill gesture were fairly self-explanatory. I laid them out along the entrance from the road to their driveway.

I looked back at the finished product and thought, "That's not enough flowers." So I went to get some more.

When I came back, the flowers I had left earlier were gone. I wondered to myself who would have removed them. I still didn't see any signs of anyone at the mosque; the few vehicles there were in odd places in the lot as if they'd been left overnight, and it was early yet. I decided to just set out the second batch of flowers and leave.

While I was setting out the flowers, an elderly fellow drove onto the mosque's driveway. He rolled down his window and asked me what I was doing. Glad for an actual person to explain to, I said I was leaving flowers to send them a better message than some of the others they may have heard. He drove through the gates into the mosque.

I finished setting out the flowers quickly; now that there was someone there, I wanted the chance to ask where the first batch had gone and explain why I wanted to leave them.

That's when things got interesting.

While I was heading towards the gate (really a short trip; the driveway isn't that long) I saw another fellow coming my way. I was glad to see him coming at that point, since I didn't quite know where to knock to talk to someone, and it would have been a long walk across the parking lot too.

But he drove across the parking lot quickly -- too quickly, at nearly highway speeds. And he parked right behind my car -- too close. At first I didn't realize why he would park so recklessly close to another vehicle; I soon realized that there was nothing reckless or accidental at all in why he parked so close.

I wished him good morning. He began shouting at me, very angry, asking what I was doing. He asked who told me to leave the flowers. I said they were a gift.
He asked who gave me permission to leave flowers. I was surprised, but I had carefully left them outside the gate by the road; I just answered that I had meant them as a gift, and as a good gesture, not intending any harm. (I had no thought of needing permission to give flowers. I was hoping that by staying calm and open, he would become reassured that the gift was meant exactly as that, and see that there was nothing bad about leaving flowers.)

"I'm calling the police!" he said quite angrily. Then I realized his parking job so close behind me was meant to trap my car and prevent me from leaving. (Interesting that he chose to trap me as he sped across the lot before even speaking to me, knowing nothing except that I had come to drop off flowers.)

The other fellow, the elderly gentleman, was driving out now. The angry one told him to go park his car on the other side of mine, which would have had me even more thoroughly boxed in. I did not hear what the elderly fellow said to him. I mentioned that I had meant it as a good thing; the elderly fellow expressed his disapproval of my leaving flowers, but left without following the angry fellow's instructions to block in my car on another side.

I told the angry fellow that I didn't mind waiting for the police. (I thought this needed saying since he seemed concerned whether I was trapped enough.) I was glad to wait if it would ease his mind and show him I meant no trouble at all, and in fact had been trying to show them some kindness.

He made quite a show of phoning in my license plate number and describing me to the police. I offered to talk to the police and give them my personal information, but he did not respond.

He scooped up all the flowers and put them in the bed of the truck. I said, "Of course, you'll save the flowers so the police can see." He looked at me without answering, but he did leave the flowers in the bed of his truck.

The agitated fellow did not wait where I could see, but left his truck blocking my car. I wasn't even sure if the police had agreed to come or not, and as time went by I became skeptical. Honestly, I could have left by making a small turn across their lawn and circling around, but I didn't want to give him any cause to suspect I had meant any harm or was avoiding the police, so I decided I would give them an hour before I pressed the issue of whether the police were really coming. I waited sitting on the low brick wall outside the gate.

I suppose it was 15 or 20 minutes before the police arrived. The police spoke first to the angry fellow who had called them. I couldn't hear the conversation because of the distance, except that his voice was raised, shouting, at a few points. He had remained decidedly angry and hostile the whole time.

Then the police came over and asked me what was going on. I told them that I wanted to do something to show them that not everyone was against them, this being 9/11 and that nutcase in Florida stirring up trouble, that I wanted to try to do something better.

It was all sorted out within a minute or two of the police coming. I agreed not to come back, naturally (I'd had no idea that it would be taken badly in the first place). And the police made him move his truck so that I could leave.

An amazing morning, all things considered.

But if someone says to you, "Nobody ever makes any goodwill gestures towards the Muslim community" -- just know that they're quite wrong about that.

How those goodwill gestures are received is another question entirely.

(And to a couple of people who know me in real life: No, really, I don't think that was a good plan, all things considered, and I am not planning on any repeats.)


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

An amazing tale, Ann! I'm linking to it on my blog.

That pastor is crazy; he's asking to be killed.

GO FOR IT, girlfriend!

Weekend Fisher said...


You know what amazes me most? If some whackjob burns a Quran, every Muslim in the world will know about it. But if someone leaves flowers outside a mosque -- even though the peaceful sentiment is probably much more common -- the Muslim community will never know, and that includes probably all but 2 of the people who attend that mosque.

And those 2 guys' reaction is still a complete mystery to me.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

amy said...

Bless your good-natured heart.

Your experience is interesting. I don't have a clue as to their reaction to the flowers, but suspect it would have something to do with you being a woman/not dressed appropriately/not seeking permission to be on their property. Who knows; I think it was a thoughtful thing to do. You have a greater love for your neighbor than me.

Islam, according to the Qur'an, doesn't seek peace with its neighbors though- and so, I am not all that surprised by your experience.

The Florida pastor may be a fool for such display, but he's got his finger on the pulse of Islam - no question about that.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Amy

I know what you mean; the reaction was odd. I was trying to be careful not to be on their property, working the part where their driveway meets the street, outside their gate. But I'm not exactly sure where the property line is, so maybe you have a point, maybe the property line is before the gate.

And on the dress code - I dress modestly but not a hijab by any means, so who knows if he was offended by that.

But something about the way the guy carried himself (hostile, angry, aggressive) made me think it would hardly have mattered; if the flowers didn't make him understand "gesture of kindness" then nothing would.

As for the Islam and peace, I've read the Quran, and a good section of the Hadiths and the Sirat Rasul Allah. So I'm not under any broad and general illusions about Islam that are so common among the uninformed. Meantime, if they are ever going to hear the words of Jesus -- which I think is our world's only true hope for peace -- then they can't think all Christians are Quran-burning hatemongers. They have to know there are those of us out there who will chance it, to build that bridge and offer some kindness, and that that's in line with what Jesus taught.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Martin LaBar said...

I don't suppose it's possible that the angry man was an anti-moslem, offended that you would make a goodwill gesture?

Weekend Fisher said...

Er, well, he came out of the mosque grounds, looked like he was from one of the areas of the world with a predominantly Muslim population, spoke accented English again corresponding to that area o the world, demanded if I had permission to leave flowers, and may well have been fetched to deal with the situation by the elderly fellow who drove into the mosque. You can interpret that however you want. It seems clear there's a very likely way to interpret it, and any other interpretation is vanishingly unlikely.

It's a shame that a goodwill gesture went astray.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Sonia said...

Very interesting! The reaction your flowers elicted is intriguing. I wonder if they thought it was some kind of insult related to 911? Or an insinuation of blame? Putting flowers for the victims in front of their mosque? I don't know--just guessing here.

It was a good thought, and gutsy of you to do it. :)

Weekend Fisher said...

It does make you wonder, doesn't it? But if that guy had misinterpreted my actions, I wonder very much why he didn't calm down when I explained myself, why the reason didn't seem to make any difference to him at all. Come to think of it, his request to the elderly fellow to help trap me in my parking spot while he called the cops came *after* I'd explained myself ...

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Genevieve said...

I would never have done that. I would not be naieve thinking that I would be safe there. But, considering the date, and that there is alot going on that is heated....maybe they never know if someone crazy will place a bomb or something near their place of worship. I don't know. But, flowers are usually given to personal friends or family, or in a time of grief, so maybe he didn't really understand why you would bring flowers there. I'm glad you are safe, but maybe next time, just send a card. :)

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Genevieve

Thanks for stopping by.

You know, of all the reactions that crossed my mind, being shouted at, trapped, and having the cops called were never really considered. Accept the flowers, reject the flowers, not discover the flowers til another day ... these were things I'd considered. Calling the cops? Literally never crossed my mind.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Jason Pratt said...

I'm sorry things went so badly, Anne. Maybe the flowers have some negative meaning during Ramadan something. (I think Ramadan is going on early this year...?)

Sonia, is that you from EU? (Kind of looks like it from your blogger tracking list.) {wave} if so!


Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Jason

Well, if there was anyone who needed to know that there are Christians out there with good intentions, it may well have been the fellow I spent the most time with there. :)

I'm hoping that, every time he sees a bunch of flowers laid out by the roadside, that he thinks about it, and that one of these days he gets it ...

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Jason Pratt said...

Well, George MacDonald used to say that even seed that falls on the stony ground and rots may still soften the ground enough for there to be a little dirt there the next time the seed is strewn. {s!}


Sonia said...

Hi, Jason! Yep, it's me.

Anne, I'm sure you did plant a seed--and, when he's had a chance to think about it, that young man will probably never get over the fact that he called the cops because a lady brought flowers.

Shuq said...

I have never blogged before so I am not sure if this message is even getting sent properly. I hope so. I just wanted to thank the person who brought the flowers to the mosque. Your gesture is appreciated. It was very sweet though totally misunderstood. I am sorry that the people that you met at the gate of the mosque did not understand your intentions and instead got alarmed. I am a Muslim American. I have never seen people bringing flowers to a mosque. I doubt anyone I know has. I know that people do bring flowers to churches and temples so I understand why you thought your gesture would be understood.

911 is a day of rememberence for all of us. Our friends, neighbors, and families suffered. America suffered. Once again, thank you for your gesture.

Just as Christianity is a religion that is practiced globally, so is Islam. Being American, I understand what you were doing. I do not know where the people you met were from. They might have been immigrants, and even more confused by your action. I am not making an excuse for their rudeness, since you explained what you were doing, but our American culture does not always make sense to others, like their cultural behavior seems strange to us and not to them at times.

I hope people that dont already understand and accept that Crazy people are just that ..crazy...will soon accept that. Good, peace-loving people are just that..good and peace-loving. All religions guide us to be good and peace-loving..judging any religion by the actions of a few people who claim to be following it is sad.

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi Shuq

Thanks for commenting.

I hope people do not judge anyone based on misinformation, or on the limited actions of a few. But I do not think it was a bad thing that the fellow I met was hostile and angry. He may have needed most of all to understand and see a sign of God's goodness and love. As the years go by and he remembers, it may even change his heart.

Jesus taught us, "Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He makes the sun to rise on both the evil and the good, and sends the rain for both the just and the unjust. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don't even [the evildoers] do that much? If you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not [evildoers] do the same? Be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect."

So no, it is not a bad thing if the fellow I met was angry and hostile. More than anyone else, he may need to see kindness.

Take care & God bless,
Anne / WF