Former pastor's meeting with Muslim brings change
Tarrannum Khan, left, and Afreen Allam embrace after the prayer service to mark Eid al-Adha, the feast of the sacrifice. The day commemorates Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son to obey God.
Yonat Shimron, Staff Writer
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Hours before thousands of Muslims converged on Dorton Arena for communal prayers marking the end of an annual pilgrimage, the Rev. Jeff Burns and a crew of Christians and Muslims laid sheets of plastic across the arena's floor.
Monday was Eid al-Adha, the feast of the sacrifice, which marks the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God. It falls the day after a pilgrimage many Muslims make to Mecca. In the Triangle, and across the world, Muslims squeezed into mosques and auditoriums for early-morning prayers. At Dorton, they peeled off their shoes, laid down prayer mats, and formed neat lines side-by-side for the ritual prostrations.
Burns, a former Southern Baptist pastor, was back at home sleeping -- having spent half the night preparing the floor.
"Before 2005, I didn't want anything to do with Muslims," said the 46-year-old Raleigh resident. "But God used a little child to change my heart."
That child, a boy named Omar, approached him one day at Starbucks, asked to borrow his orange highlighter and told him he was going to teach him Arabic.
Burns, who had left full-time ministry in 2004, saw it as a sign from God that he was to befriend Muslims. Over the past three years, he's taken up a one-man mission to change the fear and animosity that keep so many Christians and Muslims apart.
Burns has helped write articles for a local Muslim publication, led workshops on Muslim and Christian relations, and recently shared with a group of them a "halal," or ritually slaughtered meat -- in this case, Thanksgiving turkey.
Local Muslim activists responded with gratitude.
"He's like a family friend," said Fiaz Fareed, who prayed Monday morning on the plastic sheets.
"We have a good relationship," said Jihad Shawwa of Raleigh. "We can talk about anything."
Burns, who now works as a relationship coach, arrived at 11 p.m. Sunday along with four other Christian men. They worked alongside about 20 Muslim men until well past 2 a.m.
"We want to go way beyond dialogue," said Burns. "I really believe friendships are the only way to build respect with one another." firstname.lastname@example.org