The Path to Writing a Children’s Book About Muslims and Christians

“This is ecumenical; this is sorely needed in our world today,” said the lady at the gift shop at the cathedral, in San Francisco where I reside. “Pilgrims look at the cover, notice the Arabic script and crescent moon, and recoil. But once I read the title to them — you know, actually read the book — what a concept, right? — They then relax… At least a little bit.”

I added, “And Pope Francis just visited Egypt, for crying out loud. We were all on our knees praying that he wouldn’t be blown to bits, but forward he went, with faith…”

The manager was referring to my picture book for children about peaceful relations between Muslims and Catholics, set in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

A Muslim Family’s Chair for the Pope.

How did this project come into being?

I was raised in the Modern Spiritualist Church. They focus on communication with the dead, or as they prefer to call them, “so-called dead.” My parents instilled in me a deep appreciation for people of other faith traditions and cultures. Since early childhood, larger, more “established” religions intrigued me. So after college, I went exploring, and settled into Unitarian Universalism for a spell. However, the spirits had other plans for me…

Six years ago, I converted to Christianity. Oh I certainly bought into some of the broad generalities about Catholics, before my final baptism. So full of doubts. Will I have to let go of my belief in the Theory of Evolution? Will I have to support the USA’s periodic dropping of bombs on Muslim countries, per the Just War Theory?

Friends grilled me. My Spiritualist teacher at the time reminded me that “the Christians call us witches and used to burn us at the stake!” Observations and teachings I gathered from nuns, priests and other followers of Christ expanded my view of the Church, many demonstrating their faith in their actions more than their words. I would share these inspirational experiences with my secular friends. An Atheist one said, “But these are just a few exceptions”. Well, I keep running into exceptions. The Catholic Church-tent is a vast in size and shelters people of so many colors, perspectives and lifestyles. Some vote a straight GOP ticket, others are proud Democrats. Some adhere to strict orthodox traditions while others take a more “progressive” route. Anti-abortion here, contraception-users there, mystics, creationists, evolutionists, …even LGBT, if you can believe that. As James Joyce said of the Catholic Church, “Here comes everybody.” The more I look, the more I learn.

And so, with the rise in tensions between the Muslims and Christians, and since I know of several from both sides — peaceful, faithful, intelligent, compassionate citizens, I felt it my moral responsibility to counter the ignorant generalizations and demonization of Islam in the news, and in the air around us.

A Muslim co-worker, post-election, said, “Maybe I should change my name on this nametag from Kareem to John, for patrons keep asking me, ‘but where are you originally from?’” and “Stop texting me questions about Islam. We don’t know who is reading them!”

I attended an interfaith gathering, where the activity that evening was a screening of a documentary about a mosque in Yuba City, one that was burnt to the ground. Afterwards, in the parking lot, a male religious made a silly little remark to me about Muslim ragheads. Harmless? Where was this man’s attention during the last hour and a half?

For research, I attended several prayer services at mosques. Just with these handful of field trips, I saw such a varied palette of colors. After one Friday Jumu’ah, while exiting a mosque with the congregants, I took notice of a clean, parked car with dark tinted windows, and couldn’t help wonder if it was linked to the two police officers standing just at the corner, watching us.

In reaction to my book proposal, secular publishers I approached have said, “Too religious!” Religious publishers said, “Too risky!” One house almost published it, but declined, stuck on the question, “What Muslim or Catholic parents would actually buy this book for their children?” I heard, “This topic is too mature for kids” and “The marketplace is not ready for this yet.”

To quote Tracy Chapman, “If not now, then when?” Shall I wait until we render each other to ashes and dust?

This road to peace is an uphill one, or is it just our fears making it so?