After rant on Islam, school board member dines with Muslims
The Spring Grove school board member who ranted about Islam in a voicemail to a Dallastown minister earlier this month came face to face Friday night with followers of the religion he termed "godless" and "pagan."
Matthew Jansen, also an elected delegate to the Republican National Convention who intends to vote for Donald Trump, said he accepted the invitation to an iftar service and dinner at Hadee Mosque in Harrisburg because it would have been rude to turn it down.
Iftar is the meal Muslims partake in after sunset during Ramadan.
The Rev. Chris Rodkey, pastor of St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Dallastown, earlier this month changed the sign in front of the 205 W. Main St. house of worship, as he does regularly, wishing Muslims a "blessed Ramadan."
A few days later, Jansen left a message on Rodkey's cellphone saying he was "shocked" by the "despicable," "unbelievable" sign and that Islam is a "godless," "pagan" religion.
"Are you sick? Is there something wrong with you?" the man asked after promising to share a photo of the sign on Facebook and Twitter "so everybody can see this, what you've done."
Jansen posted a photo of the sign on his Facebook and Twitter accounts with the church's phone number.
He later apologized during a Spring Grove school board meeting.
"I know what I did was wrong," Jansen said. "It was a knee-jerk reaction that really muddied the district, and it was certainly not backed by anyone in the district."
Speaking: Yet Jansen appeared to defend the message to Rodkey during Friday's gathering at Hadee Mosque, saying he did so because the pastor's ideology was in direct contrast with his own. Plus, he said, he wanted to bring attention to the minister and other messages placed on the church's sign.
"When I went past there ... I would see these messages that I thought were sort of confrontational, and I assumed that he was placing them there looking for someone to maybe engage him at some point," Jansen said.
"Much of that was done to trigger a response from him, to see if he would call me," he said. "When I saw this message, I was attempting to speak directly to a type of ideology that I believe exists and just confront it."
He said he inadvertently caused a "great stir," adding he did not think of how what he said would affect anyone else.
Jansen apologized to those at the mosque. In hindsight, he said, he still would have responded to the sign, but he perhaps would have done it differently.
The service: Jansen and members of the mosque listened to a service by Hassan Ahmed, who spoke about the misconception of Jihad and the Muslim community, saying the violence of some Muslims is not condoned by the faith.
Afterward Jansen addressed the crowd, commending the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, which has been in the United States for nearly 100 years, noting the community has not been involved in any violent acts in the United States.
"Until I opened up these books earlier in the week, I didn't know anything about (Ahmadiyya Islam)," he said.
Jansen also asked if there are any other sects of Islam that are hostile in America.
"I think it would be unfair to label an entire sect or entire group or denomination as harboring ill feelings (toward) the United States," Ahmed said.
Jansen reaction: After speaking, Jansen sat down with members of the mosque for a meal.
"Whenever somebody graciously invites you to their hospitality, I think it's rude not to accept it," he said.
Jansen said the sermon was very different than he is used to, noting he had to take his shoes off during the sermon.
"I thought it was informative and enlightening," he said. "This sect that is inside Islam is peaceful, they've been here since 1920, they've committed zero offenses. This is a group of people that has become an integral part of society."
Response: After the sermon, Akram Khalid, a member of the mosque from Chambersburg, said he was happy Jansen came and was not upset with what he had said earlier.
"The problem is not to get upset, the problem is education," he said.
Khalid said it was wonderful that Jansen attended, saying it was good progress.
Ahmed said Jansen's appearance was productive, adding that after hearing Jansen's explanation of his call to the pastor, he thought Jansen had good intentions.
"(His appearance) shows that he is open-minded," Ahmed said.
Ahmed said the sermon was a good way to help dispel some negative perception of the faith and encouraged people interested in learning more to visit www.trueislam.com to find more about it.
— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.