Four Fridays now, I have observed midday prayers with my Muslim brothers and sisters.
A month ago, EEC reached out to MAS and they reached back. That is, my parish Emmanuel Episcopal Church (post the infamous seven country travel ban), reached out in friendship to the Muslim American Society Community Center.
I called their office and left a message:
“We are with you. May we come to Friday prayers? We want to stand with you and support you as a mutual sign of our faith in God.”
Merehan Elhady (Mimi), the Outreach Director, called me right back. Little did I know, their mosque and school had been threatened with violence, with arson, and heinously, even threatened with the kidnapping of their children. This first Friday we shared prayers, the Fairfax County Chief of Police came to speak in support of the Muslim community’s safety and security.
At the end of the talk, I turned to our hosts. “We are with you,” was all that I could manage to say.
“You are courageous, to come,” they told us. “Heavens no! All we did was show up. You are a blessing to us and we will be back.”
Half a dozen of us, each week, have observed prayers at MAS. And now our Muslim brothers and sisters are becoming our friends: Thoraia, Mimi, and Aseel. Now on a first name basis, each Friday we greet one another with hugs.
I cover my hair haphazardly with a scarf. I leave my shoes in the cubbies outside the worship space. I take a seat on the floor. The first two weeks, I sit behind the women. These past two weeks, we sit side by side.
Like we Episcopalians in the pews, we listen to the preacher share a message of love and compassion. And a bit like Episcopal aerobics, we bow, we kneel, we fold our hands over our hearts in prayer. Three times we touch our foreheads to the floor.
The chanted Arabic is haunting and beautiful. Though I do not understand a word, the prayers resonate with my soul. Happily I discern and learn, their meaning hews closely to the words of our own.
Muslims prepare for prayer with the cleansing of hands and feet and face, as they turn their thoughts to God. Just as in the BCP we pray:
“Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
At the mosque, at midday prayers, the worshippers raise their hands and proclaim the greatness of the Lord: “Allahu Akbar.”
And at church, for five Sundays in Lent, we will begin with the summary of the law:
“Jesus said, ‘The first commandment is this: Hear O Israel! The Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31
And this heart of the Gospel, is echoed in the heart of the Qur’an:
“Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds, the Beneficent, the Merciful; Master of the Day of Judgment. You alone do we worship and from you alone do we seek aid. Show us the Straight Way, the way upon those you have bestowed your grace not of those who have earned your wrath and gone astray.” Qur’an 1: 2-6
This faith strengthens my faith. These prayers redouble mine. Like Najashi, a Christian king of Ethiopia, proclaimed: the difference between their faith and mine is as thin as a line in the sand.
No. I am not about to convert to Islam. Jesus is the Eternal Word, for ever, the Human Face of God for me — and always will be.
But for forty days this Lent, I will be a Muslim.
Five times a day, I will pray my Anglican rosary with my Roman Catholic prayers. Kneeling. Standing. Sitting. Walking. I will praise my God body and soul. Daybreak. Midday. Afternoon. Sunset. Night.
Through Muslim eyes, I will try to draw closer to Jesus. Isa, he is called in the Qur’an. Named and proclaimed as: Messiah. Messenger. Prophet. Parable. Word. Witness. Sign. Spirit. Servant. All that is missing is ‘Lord’.
A bibliophile, I will do this by reading books, of course.
Holy books: the Gospels, the Surah.
A history book of faith: “Islam: a Short Introduction” by Karen Armstrong.
And the story of a Sufi Muslim writer and novelist, Mazhar Mallouhi: “A Pilgrim of Christ on the Muslim Road” by P-G Chandler.
And Friday prayers 1:15 PM at MAS, of course.(Check the schedule for other times!)
And Friday Stations of the Cross, 7:00 PM at EEC.
Join with me these 40 days of Lent, if you please.
The difference between us and them is as thin as a line in the sand.