FARMINGTON — A Muslim scholar and coordinator of Multicultural Student Affairs at the University of Southern Maine suggested Monday at a service honoring Martin Luther King Jr. that people build bridges rather and walls.

“Martin Luther King Jr. would be standing in solidarity with immigrants,” Reza Jalali told those at the annual service hosted by the Farmington Area Ecumenical Ministry at Old South Congregational Church. “If he were alive today, he would be an activist,” Jalali said. “We need to protect refugees, children everywhere.”

Jalali, a writer who immigrated from Iran 30 years ago, said love and laughter are needed to overcome the darkness, hatred and despair of so many today.

“We escaped the tyranny of our lands to live peaceful lives, Jalali said. “Our past is catching up with us. The divisiveness, finger-pointing is making some deaf to the beautiful music of what America is.

“America has always been a promise, an open invitation,” Jalali said. “I feel like a stranger in a land that was familiar. It changed in a single day. Clocks were turned backward to a more cruel time.” 

He said he doesn’t want his children judged by their gender, skin color or sexual orientation.

“This is a major boo-boo I can’t fix,” Jalali said.

Jalali said people should read more poetry, hug each other and enjoy the world.

“The world is meant to be celebrated. Eat chocolate. Lots of it! Dance, sing and cry but not alone,” Jalali said. “Be kind. Introduce yourself to Muslims, build bridges with neighbors who are different from you. Stand up to tyranny and pray with conviction.”

An offering taken for the New England Arab American Organization raised $685.98, the Rev. Susan Crane, chairwoman of the ecumenical ministry, said.

She said New England Arab American Organization was founded by Zoe Sahloul. Originally from Beirut, Sahloul immigrated to Canada and then to Maine. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, she was cut off from her husband when all air traffic was stopped. Sahloul received 30 cards from Falmouth neighbors she hadn’t met asking how they could help, Crane said.

“She’s never forgotten what it was like to come here as a stranger,” Crane said. “Now she’s devoted herself to welcoming all immigrants.”

According to its brochure, the organization helps new Arab immigrants integrate into and contribute to society. For more information about NEAAO phone 347-0249 or visit www.neaao.org.

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Reza Jalali, coordinator of Multicultural Student Affairs at the University of Southern Maine and a Muslim scholar, speaks at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. service Monday in Farmington. (Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser)

People sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. service at Old South Congregational Church in Farmington on Monday. (Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser)

Jane Parker and Andy Buckland sing Paul McCartney’s song “Blackbird”  at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. service at Old South Congregational Church in Farmington on Monday. (Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser)

Singing “We Shall Overcome” at the Martin Luther King Jr. service at Old South Congregational Church in Farmington on Monday are, from left, Fred O. Smith, New England Arab American Organization Executive Director Zoe Sahloul, Anne Smith, Muslim scholar Reza Jalali, the Rev. David Smith and the Rev. Paul Dumais. (Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser)


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