Do you believe in prophecy?
In 1981, I was sent on a routine newspaper assignment to photograph the opening of a new Islamic center in southeastern Kansas City. I didn’t give much thought to the implications of this new community as I made my way past the mainly all white neighborhoods lining the drive along James A. Reed road.
This was my first visit to a mosque. Previously the only experience I had with Muslims had been the 1978 Iranian riots in Los Angeles I photographed while working at The LA Times. The LA riots were largely peaceful demonstrations that went out of control when police wielded billy clubs with excessive force upon the demonstrators in an attempt to break up the gathering. For a transplanted midwestern kid it was eye opening to witness that miscarriage of power firsthand.
The President of the congregation embraced me with a warm greeting. They were genuinely happy I was there to tell their story and it didn’t take long to recognize this was no ordinary daily assignment. Why had this unique group chosen to build in the heart of white suburbia? While the location was picked primarily for its land price a secondary goal soon emerged. The congregational leadership understood the benefit of reaching out to their newfound neighbors with open arms. I left that afternoon convinced there was a deeper story than the simple opening of a religious institution. Over the next couple of months I would return several times and upon each occasion I was always welcomed with a genuine hospitality I have since rarely witnessed.
Life has its way of turning in full circles.
Upon entering high school three years ago my son, Sam, chose to study Arabic in the language intensive Center for International Studies program. A unique public high school curriculum where students study either Arabic, Chinese or Japanese two hours a day, five days a week for the duration of their high school education. Beyond the obvious practical applications of the languages, students enrolled in CIS are learning important geopolitical information about these far off lands and cultures.
Past and present seem bent on continually colliding at common intersections. Perhaps Sam’s generation will finally break through the mountains of mistrust, anger and retribution that nations have built up against one another over decades of strife in the Middle East. It’s a dream worth pursuing. Let’s hope this one becomes reality.
Here are a few of my images from the 1981 shoot.