HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – A school board member in York County, critical of a church sign wishing Muslims a blessed Ramadan, accepted an invitation for dinner at a Harrisburg mosque Friday night.
“Our community is big on trying to remove the misconceptions that people have about Islam,” said Imam Hassan Ahmed, “and we felt like this was like a textbook case where it was more ignorance than anything.”
That’s why Harrisburg’s Ahmadiyya Muslim community invited Matt Jansen, an elected delegate to the Republican National Convention who supports presumptive nominee Donald Trump.
“We feel like that’s part of our job description as being a Muslim is that you kind of inform people what your true core values are,” Ahmed said.
Friday night, the religious leader explained Islam to Jansen.
He’s the school board member from Spring Grove Area School District, elected a few months ago, who had to apologize Monday for comments he made a few days earlier.
“We were kind of taken aback at first,” Ahmed said of the comments.
Jansen saw a sign outside of St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Dallastown wishing Muslims a “blessed Ramadan.”
He left a voicemail with the pastor asking if he was “sick” for supporting a “Godless” religion.
Monday, he apologized to the community during a school board meeting, but said he had no plans to resign amid calls for him to do just that.
Harrisburg’s Hadee Moqsue invited him to a service; to their surprise, he accepted.
“He created a good example for everyone,” said Akram Khalid.
Ahmed chose to discuss the topic of jihad during the service — specifically, the misinterpretation of the word. He explained it does not mean what most people think of.
“That someone who struggles or endeavors in a certain cause, specifically in the cause of God, that’s what jihad means,” Ahmed said. The most common form, he added, was a personal struggle within a person.
Jansen took notes, he asked questions about different sects of Islam, and made observations about the violence we see from extremists.
“These are the images that come through that thing all the time into people’s homes and they see it,” he said, motioning to the ABC27 News camera. “There’s enormous misconceptions about one group of people, another group of people.”
He said opportunities like Friday’s service are opportunities to build bridges. Afterward, Christian and Muslim broke bread.
And while Jansen said there are indeed misconceptions about this Ahmadiyya Muslim sect, he wasn’t ready to say that about Islam generally.
“I think it’s a bit premature to ask me how now I view the entire dynamic globally,” he said.
As for that church sign, if he had it to do over, he said he’d probably still respond to the sentiment, just in a more measured way.