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Plymouth Congregational Church honors local Muslim leader with peace and justice award

Saturday, March 2, 2013 - 12:01 am

Plymouth Congregational Church will reach out to another faith in what could be a Fort Wayne first — a Christian congregation giving a major award to a member of the local Islamic community.

During its 10 a.m. worship service Sunday, members of Plymouth's Peace and Justice Committee will present the church's annual Amistad Peace and Justice Award to J. Tamir Rasheed, the amir, or leader, of the Islamic Center of Fort Wayne.

Rasheed believes it is the first time a local Christian congregation has presented a significant award to a local Muslim.

“It touched the innermost portion of my heart,” Rasheed said of learning he had been selected to receive the award.

The award also has deep meaning for him, even beyond it being a likely first, he added.

He is of African descent, and the award is named for Africans who were kidnapped and sold into slavery but then revolted and took control of the ship transporting them, the Amistad, in 1839.

The ship eventually was run aground off Long Island, and the Africans became defendants in a legal case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Africans — who were defended by early members of what is now the Congregational Church — won the case and the right to return home.

“The award is given to a person, but it represents a freedom of a people and a struggle that still is going on,” Rasheed said.

In addition, the award also has special meaning for him because, when properly taught, understood and practiced, Islam also is a religion of peace and justice, he said.

Islam's Prophet Muhammad instructs followers that, if they see an injustice, they are obligated to right it with their hands, Rasheed said. If the perpetrator of the injustice is an entity too large to handle alone, such as a government, the person should speak out against the injustice. If the person can't create change by speaking out, he or she should at least change the injustice in his or her own heart.

Plymouth's Amistad award committee chose to honor Rasheed because of his longtime and ongoing efforts to promote interfaith understanding and respect in the community, said the Rev. John P. Gardner, Plymouth's senior minister.

“We wanted to applaud his past efforts and to encourage his future endeavors,” Gardner said.

Rasheed, for example, participated in many panel discussions and educational programs after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to help local people understand the true beliefs of Islam, Gardner said. Rasheed also served during that time on a local committee on tolerance created by then-Mayor Graham Richard.