Thursday, September 23, 2010

Catholics and Muslims Struggling and Loving in God

On September 12th 2010 a burnt Koran was dropped in front of the Muslim Community Center of Chicago. The MCC is one of the oldest Muslim centers in the city. The members report having a good relationship with their neighbors. The desecration came as a shock to the members.

The hate note attached to the Holy Book was signed “Mr. Catholic.” When I heard of this incident I was disturbed. I was bothered by the singing of the note and about the desecration. I was also bothered because it is so critical that we Americans find commonality whenever we can. I do not mean a false commonality that minimizes significant differences. Rather, we need to find commonality while accepting our very real differences.

I was also bothered because as a Catholic Secular Franciscan I found the note personally offensive. My faith tradition is shaped by the life of Francis of Assisi. 800 years ago, during the Crusades, this obedient Catholic defied orders and crossed the battle field lines in Egypt. His goal was to meet with the Sultan and convert him to Christianity. Francis was captured, beaten and then brought before the Sultan, The two men talked and talked and talked. At the end neither was converted but both held the other in high regard. It was the beginning of an 800 year tradition of mutual respect and dialogue.

I had the day off so I walked to the MCC. There I prayed with the men. It was very impressive. Hundreds of men of different colors, languages and dress all praying in unison to Allah. I had been anxious about entry the center. I did not know how to ritually wash. I did not know who to address. There was no need to be anxious. This was a welcoming center.

The center appeared to have been a converted ballroom. The men’s area had an area for members that was marked off by a railing. The rest of the room was lower and covered with 35 large carpets. All of the floor space would be covered by men prostrating themselves and praying.

Night 18 - Taraweeh 2010/1431 @ Muslim Community Center (MCC) - Imam Asim Abdul Aleem

The women were in a different section of the center. They were not dressed uniformly. Some were very modest in dress and others appeared more casual while still maintaining a sense of propriety.

When the sermon and prayers were over I went out into the lobby. There a man introduced himself to me. He offered to assist me. I told him who I was and that I was here to show support for those who work for peace and worship God. He then introduced to Imam Fisal Hammouda.

The Imam was moved by the presence of a Christian at the center offering support. He knew of the relationship between Franciscans and Muslims and he valued that relationship.

He spoke of tolerance and mutual respect. It was hard for him to comprehend how people who share so much in common could be so antagonistic to one another. He told me how Muslims believe in Jesus, his miraculous birth, his death and his resurrection. He spoke of their devotion to Mary and to all of the earlier saints. He said he could not understand how Christians could hate Muslims.

Imam Fisal Hammouda Talks About Interfaith Tolerance and Respect

We spoke of the need for members of different faith communities to accept and respect other faith communities. He spoke of what it means to be an American and also what it means to “love your neighbor.” At the end of our dialogue he gave the school a blessing.

Imam Fisal Hammouda's Blessing to the University of Saint Francis

I left the MCC feeling connected to some of its members. I felt compelled to make clear distinctions between faith members who advocate violence and those who believe God wants us to act in peace and with love. The two camps do not describe religions, they describe individual responses of faith communities. As I left the center I knew I would be back and that I would continue to attempt to dialogue while respecting our very real differences. It was a good day.

I AM A MUSLIM! My Faith My Voice by PSA

No comments: