We are blessed to live in Toledo, Ohio, where we have one of the most diverse populations in the U.S., and an amazing choice of ethnic restaurants. Most notably, the corridor from Toledo to Detroit is home to one of the oldest and largest Arab-American populations in our country (God bless Danny Thomas and Jamie Farr!), and a large proportion of that population is Muslim. This means that we not only have some of the best Middle Eastern food in the nation but also excellent Muslim butcher shops with halal meat and one of the most beautiful mosques in the United States. In fact, Toledoans of all faiths commonly refer to it as “our mosque” and routinely take visitors from out of town there for a tour. After 9/11, Toledoans formed a human shield around the mosque to protect it and its members from any danger.
We know that we are always welcome to visit the mosque, just as all Toledoans know they are welcome to visit our gorgeous Cathedral of the Queen of Most Holy Rosary. We also know we are welcome to say a prayer at the mosque if we wish, understanding that our Muslim friends ask us to take off our shoes and pray with women on one side, and men on the other. We have a strong relationship built upon mutual respect for the dignity of each other as children of God.
Ramadan and Mutual Respect
It is common for Muslim kids to attend Catholic schools, and in fact, some of the most successful students in our Catholic schools have been Muslims. They learn and recite Catholic prayers, participate in Catholic Mass, and abide by all requirements of each respective school. During Ramadan, the schools provide fasting students with a quiet area away from the cafeteria so that food is not nearby. Again, there is a deep and abiding mutual respect between the Muslim imams, Catholic clergy, and our respective faithful. And each year, Ramadan provides another bond to our communities.
Why is Ramadan a gift to us Catholics? We both have seasons in which we fast — Lent and Ramadan — but, because Ramadan requires Muslims to fast from sunrise to sundown, many restaurants stay open later to serve large buffets at iftar, the time when the fast may be broken. Iftar buffets are filled with a delicious array of the best homemade Middle Eastern foods and desserts; and, of course, non-Muslims are welcome to partake as well. We know that no alcohol or pork products will be served, and we honor the spaces provided for Muslims for prayers at the breaking of the fast.
It’s a delight to be part of this month-long nightly party, and we look forward to the biggest party of all when Ramadan is done. Again, because we have built a long-standing relationship based on mutual respect, we benefit greatly from our interaction.
The Apple Orchard
It is a common summer activity for us to go to Farmers’ Markets or fruit picking at the beautiful orchards around our Great Lake coasts. Many of the orchards have small restaurants and several offer areas for family gatherings or weddings. The orchards have long had a reputation for hospitality to all, and many families make visiting an annual tradition during the respective cherry, blueberry, peach, or apple seasons.
One such orchard is Country Mill Orchard in Charlotte, Michigan, run for many years by the Tennes family. The Tennes family not only sells their wonderful produce on their farm but has also for many years participated at the Farmers’ Market located 22 miles away in East Lansing. It is well known that the Tennes family members are devout Catholics — they have posted this extensively on their Orchard’s Facebook page.
Occasionally, couples will ask to be married at the Orchard, and the Tennes family has always made it clear that, due to their Catholic faith, they cannot service weddings for same-sex couples on their land, but will happily refer those couples to other orchards which can service them. The Tennes also have gay and lesbian employees, and, of course, serve every customer who comes to their orchard and market. Customers and employees have been very happy with the Tennes for many years, and cite the atmosphere of mutual respect that permeates the business and family.
Unfortunately, because the Tennes family will not host same-sex weddings on their land, the City of East Lansing decided to bar them this year from selling produce at the farmers’ market, citing a local Human Rights Ordinance. The Tennes have engaged Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys to file suit against the city of East Lansing. “What (Tennes) did was not illegal,” attorney Kate Anderson said. “They are running their farm according to their beliefs, which is the right of every American. What is wrong here is the city of East Lansing targeting them and trying to discriminate against them for acting upon their beliefs.” Anderson continued, “People of faith, like the Tennes family, should be free to live and work according to their deeply held beliefs without fear of losing their livelihood.”
“Tolerance is a Two-Way Street”
Muslims and Catholics have flourished together in Toledo because we have mutual respect for one another’s free exercise of religion. We know that when we are at one another’s places of worship, schools, or businesses, we respect the tenets of each other’s faith, and don’t impose our own beliefs on the other.
The Tennes do not deny any person the opportunity to purchase their produce, to be employed at their orchard, or to visit their grounds. But no one has the right to demand that the Tennes be forced to use their private property to support activities which are contrary to their faith. As Mr. Tennes commented, “My wife Bridget and I feel tolerance is a two-way street.”
Pray for the Tennes and, if you can, support their lawsuit at Alliance Defending Freedom. And pray for a new flourishing of mutual respect in our country, so that, no matter what we believe, we will always treat one another as the children of God that we are.