I was nervous walking into the mosque. I am a small-town Lutheran, and only the sudden death of my beloved Ridgewater College student, Yasmin, brought me to the Willmar mosque in November 2018.

Yasmin had been a bright light: thoughtful, hardworking, and friendly. She dreamed of combining family with accounting work. When I discovered she died in a car accident, nothing could keep me from her funeral, even though I had no idea what to expect. I put a scarf around my neck.

From the second I walked into the old Lafayette Elementary building, friendly faces welcomed me. Another Ridgewater student saw me immediately.

I asked if she could bring me to Yasmin's mother, so I could present her mother with an essay I wrote: how Yasmin taught me, and how her memory would accompany me through the rest of my teaching life. Not only did I talk to her mother, I sat in a place of honor next to her in a small room filled with female relatives.

I talked to her cousin, Amina, the most, about Yasmin's life away from school and Amina's own dreams apart from her job.

As it came time to join the other women in the large room that serves as the sanctuary, I told Amina I had worn a scarf but wasn't sure how to wear it on my head. She gestured to me with love. I leaned over her, and time stood still as she carefully tucked and folded, only a breath away.

Then, I entered a large room full of women that was dim but warm and inviting. I heard unfamiliar Arabic prayers, but stood joined with women who know grief but feel hope anyway.

If a woman in hijab walked into one of our churches, would we welcome her with so much grace?

Jill R. Benson

Willmar