The mosque next door: Getting to know our Muslim neighbors

Last spring our church paid a call on our neighbors at Masjid al-Jumu’ah, the new mosque in town. We live in Bolingbrook, a fast-growing suburb of 73,000 residents 30 miles southwest of Chicago. To the surprise of many of my city friends, a fifth of my neighbors out here in these cornfields-turned-subdivisions are African American, a quarter are Latino, and more than a tenth are of Asian descent. People here like to say, “Our block is like the United Nations!”

Diversity is not new in Bolingbrook, and Muslims are not a hidden population. Students in headscarves attend the high school; big-box grocery stores boast Middle Eastern and Indian aisles; a halal market does brisk business. For 25 years the mayor has enthusiastically participated in the annual Pakistan Independence Day celebration.

But when Muslims purchased a foreclosed church building in Bolingbrook, a colleague told me that pastors in our local clergy association were concerned. One suggested that demonic forces were at work. I began to imagine protesters holding angry signs and writing inflamed letters to the editor.