The Jumu’ah, the Friday communal prayers of Islam, were hosted by the Washington National Cathedral yesterday with an invited group of Muslims and Christians and heavy security. The event was organized by The Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the cathedral, and Ebrahim Rasool, a Muslim scholar and South Africa’s ambassador to the United States.
The Washington Post describes the event:
Numerous speakers, including cathedral officials and local Muslim leaders, echoed Rasool’s message about the urgent need for religious understanding and collaboration. Most made pointed references to the symbolism of the majestic Christian building, where rugs had been laid for prayer.
The Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the cathedral, spoke of Saint Benedict, who he said believed equally in the importance of prayer and hospitality. Marveling at the sounds of Arabic prayers, which he called “a beautiful sacred language in a beautiful sacred space,” Hall said he hoped the service would serve as the start of more efforts to work together for good.
Other speakers said they hoped the service would help correct some Americans’ misperceptions of Muslims as extremists and reinforce tolerance among faiths.
“Salaam, shalom, peace. You are all so very welcome here,” said the Rev. Canon Gina Gilland Campbell, the cathedral’s director of liturgy, in an open greeting.
The event was not without controversy. Despite the security, one of the people present rose to protest and was escorted out.
Nevertheless, the carefully scripted ceremony was marred once when one well-dressed, middle-age woman in the audience suddenly rose and began shouting that “America was founded on Christian principles. . . . Leave our church alone!” She was swiftly ushered out by security aides, and the service continued.
On Facebook, Frederick William Schmidt was critical of the event:
Friend and colleague, The Reverend Samira Izadi expresses her own bafflement at the decision of Washington National Cathedral to host a Muslim worship service. My response to her post:
Samira, well said. Authentic inter-religious dialogue requires the recognition of difference, not erasing it. Until we own who we are and recognize what Muslims believe and then, in the light of that difference, begin a conversation, real tolerance cannot exist. If what we do is surrender our beliefs, our boundaries, our worship spaces, our sacraments, and then say, “Let’s talk about what we hold in common,” then we will find ourselves talking about something no one believes. I don’t think that Muslims ought to be worshiping in Christian spaces. That said, I don’t think that Christians ought to be invited to worship in a mosque. To say, let’s talk about what we hold in common is to talk about something that no one believes; and the conceit that this “common conviction” exists is a piece of Enlightenment conceit….which is elitist and imperialistic in its own
Susan Russell writing in the HuffPo, partly in response to flood of critical comments on social media, talks about why this service was important in terms of both the civic and religious discourse in our nation:
Yes, there are texts in the Koran that condone violence. I’ll see you and raise you a boatload of texts in the Bible. (Start with 2 Samuel – but only if you have a really strong stomach.)
Yes, there are Muslims who advocate murder for “infidels,” behead journalists and discriminate against minorities – using their religion as an excuse for their violent extremism. There are also Christians who blow up women’s health clinics, burn crosses on lawns and lynch their African-American neighbors – using their religion as an excuse for their violent extremism.
The truth is that ISIS is to Islam what the KKK is to Christianity. It is long past time for those Christians so busy beating up Muslims with their Bibles to go re-read the part where Jesus called us to love – not to demonize – our neighbors. And to remember that this nation was founded by those with the wisdom to understand that in order to protect our freedom of religion we also need protection from religion – and from presuming to prioritize our beliefs over the beliefs … or lack of belief, for that matter … of anybody else.
And so I give thanks that today in our National Cathedral we were blessed by the witness of faith leaders standing, speaking and praying from the firm foundation of those traditional American Values. I find hope in being reminded again today — from both the Christian and the Muslim leaders gathered in our National House of Prayer for ALL People — that we can make a difference in the world by standing together. And so I pray in these words from the closing prayer in today’s Friday Prayers (Jumu’ah)
“We pray for protection from those who would divide us. God bless America and God Bless the world.”
And let ALL God’s people say “Amen.”