March 10th, 2011
04:41 PM ET
By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
"You have to wait in line sir," a staff member from the House Homeland Security Committee politely told a man as he tried to walk into Cannon Room 311.
She directed him to the back of a long line outside the hearing room for the committee's hearing on "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response." The 120 seats in the gallery of the hearing room at the Cannon House Office Building were full and had been all morning.
Muslims and Christians mingled politely as people from across the country patiently waited for their chance to go inside.
Two interns from Utah shared a pair of headphones and listened to the hearings on the C-SPAN I-Phone app while they waited to get in, long after the hearing had begun.
A large group of young adults from the City Church of San Diego said they were in town on a mission trip. "It's important for us to catch a vision of what our government does," Veronica Cornetta said.
They said they hadn't formed an opinion about the hearings.
"We want to try to understand both sides and just pray for them," Brenna Levy said.
"As a Muslim American, I think this is an issue we all need to work together on," Jihad Saleh Williams said as he waited in line.
As a high school student growing up in Los Angeles in the 1980s, Williams converted to Islam, saying he was influenced by hip-hop and the movie "Malcolm X," like many young men his age.
"I'm dating myself when I say that," he said.
Today he practices orthodox Islam and is the government affairs representative for Islamic Relief, a humanitarian group based in Alexandria, Virginia. He said he was worried the hearing would be divisive.
"What is important is to show is how engaged we are in communities, especially in areas like humanitarian aid," he said. "If people are involved and invested in their community, they're more inclined to report nefarious activity when they see it."
"Salam alhakim," a man from the Malaysian ambassador's office greeted Williams with the traditional Muslim salutation.
For Williams the brief exchange was ans example of how diverse the Muslim community in the U.S. is drawing people from all different ethnic backgrounds.
Just look at the line, he said. "There are African-Americans, Southeast Asians, Arabic." Regardless of the way they practice Islam, Williams said, now more than ever, they need to be united.
"Sunni, Shia, Sufi - the community can come together over this," he said.
At the end of the line stood the Rev. Franklin Raddish, wearing a gray suit, white shirt and American flag tie. He and his wife, Pamela, were in town from Greenville, South Carolina.
He said they run a weekly Bible study on Capitol Hill, driving back and forth from their home each week, racking up between 50,000 and 60,000 miles a year. They were there to support House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King, R-New York.
"I believe there's a radicalization of Muslims in the U.S.," he said. "I think their ultimate goal is to raise the Islamic flag over the White House, figuratively."
"You cannot appease evil; it has to be defeated," he said. His wife nodded in agreement.
That point of view was in the minority among those in line. But even in their disagreement, they all remained polite, and waited.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.