PASADENA, Calif. It was a sight seldom seen in Latter-day Saint meetinghouses, impressive and unprecedented, as hundreds of Los Angeles-area Muslims and members of the Pasadena California Stake became partners in bringing desperately needed emergency supplies to Iraqi families.
The event was a humanitarian aid day May 10, and the mission was to complete some 10,000 family hygiene kits to add to a $650,000 shipment of medical supplies and blankets donated by the Church to the people of Iraq.
The humanitarian aid shipment was so large that it filled three 40-foot ocean containers, each capable of holding 20 pallets of supplies. Nour International Aid and Mercy Corps International are working with the Church to transport the goods by ship. The cruise left from Los Angeles, and will dock in Turkey, and then arrive in Iraq.
"We're told by relief workers in Iraq that these family hygiene kits will be most welcome," said Elder Tad R. Callister, an Area Authority Seventy.
Because the war in Iraq has disrupted commerce and displaced families, many everyday items are in scarce supply. "For several decades the Church's humanitarian service arm has distributed family hygiene kits to people displaced by natural or man-made disasters in all parts of the world," Elder Callister said.
Production and purchase of kit components are made possible by contributions of money and labor from members and friends of the Church. Kit supplies were trucked to Pasadena from the Church's Humanitarian Service Center in Salt Lake City.
But the completion of 10,000 family hygiene kits was not the only success of the day. The exchange of labor by 300 Latter-day Saints and Muslims will be a permanent memory for everyone. Most of the Muslim volunteers had never set foot in a Latter-day Saint Church building.
"We believe that this is a truly significant thing," said Shabbir Mansuri, founder and executive director of the Council on Islamic Education in Orange County, who attended the event. "We have a great friendship and share many family values with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
During the project, many hands made light work. It is a cliche which is often overused, but it fit the day. The aid project was expected to take all afternoon, but was completed in under two hours. The carts rolled in, and the boxes moved out. A large truck was packed with the labors of the faithful.
Among those scattered throughout the Pasadena meetinghouse were President Maher Hathout of the Islamic Center of Southern California; Salam Al-Maryati of the Muslim Public Affairs Council; and Zizi Alfi of the Women's Islamic Society. Even a few natives of Baghdad were on hand to pitch in. No one knew better than they how valued these gifts would be.
During the event, cultural differences simply disappeared and a remarkable degree of understanding blossomed between the peoples of these two faiths. Friendships developed over stacks of wash cloths and tubes of toothpaste. Members of the Pasadena stake discovered quite quickly how much they had in common with their Muslim neighbors.
"It is so wonderful to see people from the Latter-day Saints Church and the Muslim community working together in a wonderful humanitarian thing like this," said Hedab Tarifi of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. "I was telling one of the sisters here that I am sure God is watching over us and is pleased with what we are doing. It is something to see two communities working together in this way."
Even a reporter had to step back for a moment. Particularly when the prayer leader of the local mosque came to the stage for the "Athan," or the "call to prayer."
The Relief Society room was transformed into a sacred prayer room. Shoes came off in the hall, and dozens and dozens of believing Muslims knelt and bowed to the floor in prayer. While the Muslims worshipped, the Latter-day Saints continued on, awaiting the return of their new friends.
"This is the most amazing day. Who would ever have guessed we would see a day when our cultural hall would really live up to its name," said Dorothy DeVore of the La Crescenta Ward.
The Church has a decade-long relationship with the leadership of Islam in Los Angeles. During conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo when so many Muslims were in need of food, the Church offered its cannery facilities to provide large quantities of canned beef for starving families.
Brigham Young University also has a respected ongoing program of Islamic translations which has made it possible for many Arabic writings of philosophy and poetry to be made available in English.