An article I read this morning noted that the number of Anti-Muslim groups in the United States has tripled in 2011. How sad! What would Jesus say? What would Francis do? Why such fear?
Twelve of us, Sisters of St. Francis and companions, know how much we have in common with Muslims, despite our differences, because of a recent first-hand experience. On Sunday, March 11, through the efforts of Mary Furlong, a companion and a member of the Advocacy Committee, we donned appropriate clothing and visited the Zaubaida (Foundation) Mosque in
. Our visit was an incredibly enriching and educational experience—one we will never forget. Yardley, Pennsylvania
Upon arrival at the mosque, the place of prayer, we learned that ritual purification ordinarily takes the form of ablution which involves the washing of the face, arms, head, and feet. We were excused from this ritual. We did, however, remove our shoes and join the men for noontime prayer, sitting behind them. This was a rare privilege since women ordinarily pray in an adjoining room where they can hear but not see the Imam. We were told, however, that an expansion of this mosque is currently being planned and when completed, women and men will pray together with the women behind the men and the Imam in full view of all.
The noontime prayer which we attended is one of the five daily periods of prayer. We had been apprised beforehand of the meaning of the gestures and positions that Muslims utilize during this time. A key word for me was surrender to the will of Allah, particularly when kneeling and placing one’s head flush with the ground.
After prayer, we moved to the library where Imam Jamal El Chebli, Syed M. M. Afzal,
Imam Mohammad Chebli, and others gave us a basic understanding of Islam. We were presented with our own copy of the Qur’an, a gift to be treasured. In my reading beforehand and in perusing the index of the Qur’an, I noted how much we, Catholics and Muslims, have in common—a stunning surprise. I was delighted at one learning in particular and that was the place of Mary and the Annunciation in the Qur’an. We also learned that—as important as belief is—belief alone is not enough. To that end there are five Pillars of Islam. Muslims are to have faith and belief in the Oneness of God and the finality of the prophethood of Muhammad; to offer prayers five times daily as a sign of gratitude; to give charity to show sympathy with the needs of the poor; to fast the month of Ramadan to be God-conscious, to learn perseverance and to remember the poor; and to travel to Mecca, if affordable, once in a lifetime.
We also learned that Jihad means struggle—an inner struggle –and not a “holy war.” However, Islam does not exclude the use of force through which to curb evil, if there is no viable alternative. Sounds like our Just War Theory which, I believe, Catholics no longer embrace.
Of great interest to us were the insights of Saba Sheikh and Nour Phillips, two Muslim women.
Saba is a young single woman who is in process of choosing a law school. Law. Nour, a former Quaker, is a young married woman and a massage therapist. Nour shared her faith journey with us. Their insights into the equality of Muslim women and the choice of wearing the hijab, the head covering traditionally worn by Muslim women—and of modest Muslim styles of dress in general—were insightful. If I understood correctly, the wearing of the hijab is up to the woman herself. Saba stated that she believes that the wearing of this clothing is a real sign of courage in today’s world.
It was also interesting to learn that this mosque has a strong outreach to the poor, including that of feeding those who come to them for help. And though we were certainly not among the “hungry and homeless,” we ended our day by being treated to a wonderful meal together at the Country Buffet. There is, as we know, no better way to solidify a relationship than with a meal together.
I have only been able to share here a bit of what we learned but we are intent on furthering our relationship with the men and women of this mosque into the future. We learned much about Muslims, mosques, and Islam. But more than that, we learned that these are, indeed, our sisters and brothers as Jesus and Francis have already told us. We are hopeful that, in the not too distant future, our friends can visit us in the Glen where we can offer the same wonderful hospitality as was shown to us. Francis and Mother Francis would have us do no less.