When Torreah "Cookie" Washington heard about the Florida preacher asking people to send copies of the Quran for him to burn on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, she went straight to her minister at the Unity Church.
We have to do something, she said.
Her feelings moved Rev. Ed Kosak, in part because he knew those attacks nine years ago hit Washington very close to home. Her brother had been in the Pentagon when that American Airliner hit. For 14 hours, Washington didn't know he was still alive.
But, she said that it never once occurred to her to hate an entire group of people based on the actions of a band of terrorists.
"It just hit me so hard it brought me to my knees," Washington said. "I told him we need to do something to embrace the Muslin community, to show them that not all Christians are mean, not all Christians are crazy and not all Christians are hate-filled."
Washington's mission was realized when people of 15 congregations gathered at James Island County Park on Saturday for a picnic with local Muslims. For several hours, 200 people of various faiths mingled, broke bread and generally just had a good time.
Imam Mohamed Melhem of the Central Mosque of Charleston looked out over a crowd and said it was a "very important thing to meet with all the people."
He said the message he wanted to convey was that Muslims stand on principles of love and compassion, and believe in the religions of Judaism and Christianity.
This is not an isolated incident, either - Kosak and Washington shared a Ramadan dinner with him recently. Melhem said that people of the various faiths talk more and get along better than most people realize. Part of that is today's media, he said.
"If you have 99 people talking about peace but there is one guy screaming and hollering, that's who is going to get the attention," Melhem said.
That was something of a theme at the picnic. Christians and Muslims alike, they said, are tired of being defined by the extremists of their faiths.
The Unity Church of Charleston was making a statement with the timing of the event. Although Saturday was the 27th anniversary of the church's founding, and the picnic was already planned, they chose for their annual celebration be overtaken by an interfaith gathering.
"I'm proud to be a part of it," said Robert Loy of North Charleston. "It's something we definitely need -- to have a dialogue with other religions."
Late in the picnic, services were held in which Kosak led the group in a prayer for the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. Washington presented a bowl of good wishes "for peace and friendship."
Ben Sharif, a local resident of the Muslim faith who moved here from New York, said events of this sort are routinely held in other places, and he's glad it has come to Charleston.
"This is beautiful," Sharif said. "I feel at home."
Reach Brian Hicks at 937-5561 or firstname.lastname@example.org.