“OKLAHOMA CITY — As a boy, Imam Imad Enchassi saw two radically different views of Christianity — one of peace and love, the other of violence committed in God’s name.
As an adult, Enchassi works to foster peace and understanding between Oklahoma’s Muslim community and Christians, Jews and other faith groups — a mission he hopes to advance during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins Wednesday.
He attended Christian schools and lived alongside both Christian and Jewish families.
In September 1982, Christian Phalangist militiamen, aided by Israeli troops, entered the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, where Enchassi lived, starting three days of massacres that left more than 1,000 — some sources say as many as 3,500 — men, women and children dead.
Enchassi carries a lasting memory of hearing Christian militants invoke the names of Jesus and Mary in violence — names he was taught to honor in peace, both as a Muslim and as a student in a Christian school.
“Hearing Jesus and Mary’s names invoked in butchering 1,800 people was strange on several levels,” Enchassi said. “I was invoking the same names for safety, and I grew up in Christian schools and we invoked the same names. And then, the people who rescued me were the Red Cross.
“I can never generalize about someone’s faith,” Enchassi said, “because I have seen the most love from some Christians and also some hate from those who claim to be Christians.”
Enchassi moved to the United States when he was 17 and pursued a career in restaurant management — including managing a Furr’s Cafeteria in Enid, in 1988.
In 2004 he moved full-time into ministry, founding ISGOC, Mercy Education Foundation, Mercy School Institute, an accredited Islamic school in Oklahoma City and Mercy Mission, a nonprofit social service organization serving people of all faiths.
Enchassi said he’s incorporated “Mercy” into everything he’s done in ministry, because it was the name of a Christian nun who took care of him after the massacres.
That selfless care for someone in need is the common tie that binds together Islam, Judaism and Christianity, Enchassi said. It’s the common tie he hopes to promote through ISGOC’s social work at Mercy Mission.
Mercy and respect
DeBorah Boneta, executive director of the Surayya Anne Foundation at Mercy Mission, said people come to the mission from all over Oklahoma for help with social issues like food insecurity, transitioning after prison release, eviction prevention, utility assistance and job skills training.
Surayya Anne also provides housing and social services to Muslim women and children in crisis and partners with the YWCA and other social service agencies to meet those needs.
Mercy Mission provides a food pantry that serves predominantly non-Muslim members of the community in need, Boneta said.
Last year, with help from Islamic Relief USA and the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, the pantry provided 17,000 people with food assistance.
Boneta said all of the social services at Mercy Mission enable people to interact with Muslims in a spirit of charity and compassion, and to overcome stereotypes and preconceptions.
“Only 10 percent of the people who get food from us are Muslim, and a lot of people have told us, ‘I am shocked you’re Muslim — you’re not what I thought a Muslim would be,'” she said. ‘We’re able to serve them and treat them with mercy and respect, and they come to see us as just human beings. And, they’re able to see that and take that back home with them.’ ”
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