During a Sunday afternoon trip to the Walden Galleria in Cheektowaga, Christina Lesh’s 4-year-old daughter was first to notice the many shoppers throughout the mall clutching long-stemmed roses of various colors.
“She kept asking me, ‘Mommy, why do they all have roses? Where are they getting them?’ ” Lesh said. “I didn’t know what was going on, I didn’t have an answer for her.”
That was until they stumbled upon the “Roses of the Prophets” tables in front of the Williams-Sonoma store on the lower level, where about a dozen members of the community group WNY Muslims were handing out free roses to passers-by, tagged with quotations from Muhammad, Jesus or Moses.
“The goal is to promote interfaith dialogue and create an environment where people of all faiths can come together with just a simple thing as a flower,” said Dr. Samad Khan, a member of the organization. “A flower is something human beings can really appreciate, it’s a simple gesture but a universal sign of love and harmony. And Christianity, Judiaism and Islam promote love, harmony and peace.”
They distributed 300 flowers in a two-hour period. Some shoppers thought there was a catch, others were too busy to stop, but many stopped and appeared touched by the gesture and the message behind it.
“It’s always nice to get a rose, and it’s for a good cause,” said Lesh, 36, of Buffalo. “My daughter is happy that she now has a flower, too.”
Diane Fraser and her daughter traded their Canadian Thanksgiving Day dinner for a trip to the Galleria, and the gift of the rose confirmed that the pair had made the right decision.
“It’s my Thanksgiving Day rose,” said Fraser, who lives in Toronto. “With so much hate and violence in the world today, we need more of this.”
This is the second year for WNY Muslims to hold the two-day event. Flower distribution will also take place today from noon to 2 p.m. in the Student Union on the University at Buffalo’s North Campus in Amherst.
“It’s our flagship event, and it’s a creative and unique way of spreading the messages of Moses, peace be unto him; Jesus, peace be unto him; and Muhammad, peace be unto him,” said Faizan Haq, founder of the organization, which has about 1,5,00 to 2,000 members. “It’s the same message of coexistence of cultures and belief systems.”
Last year’s event was focused only on Muhammad but the organization wanted to include all Abrahamic religions this year to highlight inherent similarities and foster unity, said Hafsah Afzal, the group’s director outreach.
WNY Muslims also aims to counter prevailing stereotypes associated with Muslims, Afzal said. And the rise of the militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria hasn’t helped their cause. “Islam condemns ISIS,” she said. Khan said incessant media reports of a “few bad apples in the bunch,” who don’t live by the tenets of Islam, have broad-brushed all Muslims as terrorists.
“We want to increase awareness that Muslims are a diverse group of individuals that have the same common goals and aspirations as every other American in this country,” Khan said. “We want to overcome the negative stereotypes in the media.”
Isabel Nowak, 13, was drawn to the rose with the peach tint, but her mother, Melissa Nowak, knew the multilayered purpose of the distribution. She instructed Isabel and her younger sister to read the message on the rose. Melissa Nowak viewed it as a teachable moment to reiterate previous conversations about peace, kindness and tolerance.
“It’s really pretty and an effective way to show peace,” said Isabel, a student at Nardin Academy. The family planned to take the rose home and put in a vase.
“And,” Melissa Nowak said, “we’re going to think about it – about its messages.”