By Barb Arland-Fye
Weeks before our conversation about her experiences as a Muslim, I stopped by Lisa Killinger’s house to pick up some things she thought might be helpful for my trip to India as a journalist. We serve together on the Pacem in Terris Coalition and have known each other for years. I consider Lisa a friend.
Last fall, Sister Margaret Kruse of Our Lady of the Prairie Retreat near Wheatland asked me to facilitate a series of conversations with speakers of different faiths and ethnicities on topics they are passionate about. The conversations, preceded by a simple soup supper, took place this Lent. I asked Lisa to speak April 2. Our conversation took place two weeks after a gunman attacked two mosques in New Zealand, killing 50 people and injuring many more. She helped organize a local interfaith prayer vigil in response.
At Our Lady of the Prairie, the evening began with informal conversation among guests over grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. Lisa, a vegetarian, said she enjoyed the “comfort food.” Her vegetarianism, coincidentally, introduced her to the Muslim faith as a college student in 1979.
She was eating in a special cafeteria where people with special dietary needs ate. Among them were Muslims, who don’t eat pork. The diners got to know each other and conversation extended to religious beliefs. Lisa grew up in the Episcopal Church, but didn’t espouse a particular religion.
The Muslim students shared that they believe in and worship one God and respect the prophets. Their beliefs resonated with hers, including Islam’s embrace of religion and science. She began studying Islam and fasted during the month of Ramadan. “Here I am 40 some years later — and still studying,” Lisa said.
Today, she is a professor of diagnosis and radiology at Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, mother of four grown children and serves as president of the Muslim Community of the Quad Cities in Bettendorf. The mosque she leads in an administrative capacity has hired an imam who will lead the congregation’s spiritual and religious education needs, beginning in May.
What she loves most about Islam is the five daily prayers that all Muslims pray. “Breaking away from this crazy life and busyness and going and remembering God. That’s my absolutely favorite part of being Muslim.”
Challenges to practicing her faith exist, compounded by the hate speech and violence in today’s divisive society, she said. One personal experience provides a chilling example: Another motorist tried to drive her off the road as she traveled home from Des Moines to Davenport on Interstate 80. She was wearing a hijab, a head scarf worn in public by Muslim women. “Go back where you came from!” screamed a man, leaning out the window of the other car and extending the middle finger of each hand. She was thinking, “Go back where I came from? Davenport, I’m trying!” Beer cans were thrown at her car from the other car before it exited the interstate.
“It was the first time I ever felt that someone would harm me because of a scarf I wear on my head, which seems so crazy to me,” Lisa said. She sees that incident as sign of “hate being empowered and people being empowered to express that hate in ways we’ve certainly seen in our society.”
Before addressing misconceptions about Islam, she said, “Gatherings like this, where people are willing to join together and learn about each other, are great.”
Among the misconceptions that concern her most: people seeing on the news that the perpetrator of a violent crime has a name that sounds Muslim or is a Muslim who knows nothing about his faith. The percentage of Muslims who commit such crimes is miniscule, she said.
“The Koran, the holy book of Muslims, says that killing one person is like killing all of humankind and saving the life of even a single person is like saving all of humankind,” Lisa said. “There is no allowance for hurting anyone who is an innocent person. It is not allowed in any scholarly look at Islam.”
Responding to a question from the audience about getting to know a Muslim personally, she extended an invitation to attend a Friday night potluck at the Bettendorf mosque. That’s where relationship building begins.
(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at email@example.com.)