Building Bridges of Faith through Love
By Elisa R. Frost
On April 1, 2016 Bonnie Kramer visited Ambassador Ahmed’s office in order to gift him American Qur’an, a kind, meaningful gesture on its own. However, it was why she purchased this copy of American Qur’an that struck the hearts of everyone who heard it.
Kramer took care during her visit to share the story of the creation of American Qur’an with Ambassador Ahmed, our guest Dr Stefan Buchwald, the Director of the German information Center at the German Embassy in Washington, DC, Patrick Burnett, and myself. It was clear that she was touched by Birk’s work.
On December 23rd, in the midst of the holiday season in 2015, Bonnie Kramer found herself listening to the Diane Rehm Show. That day’s show was titled, “A Conversation with Faith Leaders on Moral Leadership in Today’s Political Climate.” The panel included Ambassador Akbar Ahmed besides a prominent Christian reverend and a well-known Jewish rabbi. Bonnie found herself touched by the reflective conversation, which called for individuals to look into their hearts for guidance and feeling optimistic about the future.
Moments later, Kramer’s phone rang. It was her niece, a senior at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY. She was extremely upset. She had just learned that the local bookstore, Northshire Bookstore, and its employees were being threatened because they displayed American Qur’an.
American Qur’an is a product of Sandow Birk’s desire to understand and represent the Qur’an and Islam as a universal message of peace that is relevant to America. This venture included hand transcribing the holy book with adherence to the traditional prescriptions to the colors of ink, the formatting of pages, the size of margins, and medallions marking verses and packages. Birk then paired the text with a wide variety of illustrations of American life.
The book was published in November of 2015, 9 years after Birk began this ambitious project.
The stark difference between the message that Kramer had just heard on the Diane Rehm Show and the reality in her niece’s college town hit her hard. She couldn’t fathom a display of a Qur’an being ground for controversy. Justice and tolerance have always been close to Kramer’s heart. She actively participated in the civil rights movement in youth and later married a Holocaust survivor. Determined to do her part t o take a stand against this hatred, Kramer called Northshire Bookstore to inform them that she would purchase their only copy of American Qur’an.
She shared that when buying American Qur’an, she hoped Ambassador Ahmed, whose message on the Diane Rehm Show had touched her, would accept the book as a gift. Ambassador Ahmed was visibly moved by Kramer’s kind, thoughtful gesture. He reflected that this gesture was a “story of American pluralism.” He marveled that receiving this gift was a “great honor” and made it clear that “we will treasure” the book, as he continued to admire the gift.
During the visit Ambassador Ahmed and Bonnie Kramer shared many anecdotes that gave them hope about the future of peace and pluralism. Kramer shared a piece of Jewish lore, which states that there are always 36 people circling the world who are good and they hold kindness within them and inspire kindness in others.
Kramer’s humility would never allow her to consider that she may well be one such person. Many times during the conversation she made a point to say that this was not about her and she wasn’t looking for attention. She simply reminded us of the Holocaust Museum’s Campaign, “What you do matters.”
Kramer’s actions and words moved me. We connected deeply during this visit. We come from similar backgrounds: she grew up in a suburban neighborhood following WWII and I grew up in a small town following 9/11. Despite being surrounded by hatred, we both sought an education that would give us the tools to make a positive impact. And with this gesture, Kramer reminded me that simple actions can have a huge impact.
The day following the visit Kramer wrote to Ambassador Ahmed, “Our visit yesterday touched me and has given me much to reflect upon.” I believe that all who were present feel the same.
(Elisa R. Frost is an MA candidate at American University’s School of International Service where she focuses on Islamic Studies)