Today is Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. Through my friendship with Pastor Bob, a leader of San Diego’s interfaith community, I received, about a week ago, an invitation which read:
Greetings, and I hope all is well with you, our esteemed brothers and sisters in the North County interfaith community leadership. This is Karem Elhams with the Islamic Society of North County (ISNC).
You, the brothers and sisters, are invited this Tuesday August 30, 2011 to join your brothers and sisters in the North County Muslim community in celebrating the Eid Al-Fiter (end of the fasting month of Ramadan) in Corky Smith Gym at 274 Pico Avenue, San Marcos, CA.
The Eid program is as follows:
The place will open:——————————————7 am for setup.
Community and guest begin arrival:———————7:30 am
Announcements and welcoming remarks:————–8:00 to 8:30 am
Community Eid prayer lead by ICSD Imam Taha:—-9:00 am
Eid Speech by Imam Taha (20 to 30 minutes):——–9:10 am
Refreshments will be served in the playground area at 10:00 am
It will be our pleasure if you can join us. Please let me know so we can make seating arrangements for our guests.
For the ISNC Board of Directors,
So at around 9 a.m. this morning, guess what I was doing? I was being virtually the only person standing in a room of 1,500 people who were praying with their foreheads to the ground.
I stood to the side of the vast room, between the seven hundred or so women in the back, and the seven hundred or so men in the front. (In Muslim worship services, the women aren’t separated from the men because they’re considered second-class citizens; Muslims hold husbands and wives to be equal. It’s because doing sujud [prostration] means putting your backside up in the air, which, in a co-ed situation, isn’t exactly conducive to concentrating on God.)
Pastor Bob prayed with the Muslims. (He also addressed them all before prayers began. That surprised me; I had no idea Bob was a guest of honor. But he was, because Muslim-Americans so deeply appreciate Christian leaders who are willing to extend to them the hand of peace and understanding.)
I didn’t perform salah (formal prayer) with the Muslims, because I didn’t have time enough to think my way through how I felt about doing that, what with being a Christian and all. And my motto is: When in doubt, do (if possible) nothing. So that’s what I did. (Except that when you’re the sole person in a packed auditorium doing it, standing feels like an distinctly dramatic thing to do.)
And it’s not like anyone was pressuring me to worship, or anything like that. In my whole life I’ve never been treated more graciously by more people than I was by the Muslims at this morning’s Eid al-Fitr.
Afterward, I asked Pastor Bob what he did with his mind in order to make it okay for him to pray in a Muslim worship ceremony.
“Christians forget something very important about Jesus.” He leaned forward in his chair, and locked his eyes onto mine. He took the slow, measured tone he does when he’s being so serious nearby ants stop crawling. “Jesus prayed to the God of Abraham. That’s the same God Muslims pray to. When I pray with Muslims, I pray as a Christian. Christians and Muslims pray to the same God. Christians who don’t know that have either forgotten, or never learned, the history of their faith, the root of their most profound and basic beliefs.”
And that’s the simple, clear thought that evaded me this morning.
Next time, no one in that room will be standing.
Pastor Bob is the pastor who responded to my question, “If you could say any one thing about Islam or Muslims to American Christians, or to Americans generally, what would it be?” in Evangelicals and Muslims: Both Love Jesus.