TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — A community concert planned as part of a Veterans Day celebration caused deep divisions when an Islamic prayer that was scheduled to be sung by a joint choir was deleted at the last moment.
Pastor David Walls and others at First Congregational Church wanted nothing to do with the Islamic Call to Prayers portion of the performance. They said they did not want to offend their congregation and military veterans they planned to honor, church leaders said.
The 180-member choir was told the day before the concert about the change, although they'd been forewarned about a difference of opinion. No one took the jolt harder than Alya Nadji, 16, a Muslim and member of the Traverse City West High School Chorale.
Alya tried to keep singing during the rehearsal, but couldn't compose herself. She ran to the bathroom sobbing. "I felt like I wasn't being treated equal ... I felt that I was unwelcome and that I didn't belong any place near there," said Alya, a junior.
The performance of "The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace" is sung atop a video that depicts graphic war scenes and ends with different faiths drawn together in peace. Church leaders made the decision to censor the prayer three weeks ago.
Choral director Jeffrey Cobb was aware of the church’s position, but hoped to avoid a controversy and believed a compromise would be worked out. But the church stood firm.
The church's decision to ban the prayer sparked protests by choir and community members. Northwestern Michigan College officials said the college would withdraw as an official supporter of the event.
Doug Bishop, vice president of the church council, agreed with Walls and does not consider the decision a form of intolerance.
"From a Christian viewpoint, a Christian's acceptance of other people's rights have nothing to do with requiring their views to be espoused from your pulpit," he said.
Kamran Memon, president of the Chicago-based Muslims for Safe America, countered that many Muslim Americans are veterans, too. An estimated 20,000 Muslim Americans serve in the U.S. military, he said.
"American soldiers have fought and died side-by-side with Afghan and Iraqi troops fighting against a common enemy," he said.
He said the matter could have been handled better.
Details for this story were provided by The Record-Eagle in North Andover, Mass.