I majored in History and minored in Religious Studies in college and took a class on Islam. Our Professor, Dr. Juliane Hammer, covered Islamic beliefs about God, creation, prophets, Muhammad, Islamic Law, Islamic practices, women in Islam, the Qur’an, etc. We learned that reciting the Qur’an and listening to the holy words is an especially important spiritual practice for Muslims. There are professional reciters of the Qur’an and we listened to some of them in class. Some people have even converted to Islam upon hearing the Qur’an, and an appropriate response is crying because the words are so beautiful. Truth be told, I found myself with tears in my eyes when hearing the Qur’an recited. And though I remain a committed Christian, I experienced the beauty of another World Religion through studying Islam at Elon.
While studying in the Holy Land on Sabbatical, our group at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute was permitted to go to Al Aqsa and inside the Dome of the Rock itself (the third holiest site for Muslims.) We were allowed to do so because Tantur is known for respecting people of all faiths and often hosts interfaith dialogues for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Our Muslim guide, Mahmoud Abu Eid, took us through the Lion’s Gate to avoid tourists. The women in our group had to be completely covered (skirts to our ankles, longsleeves, and head scarves), which wasn’t pleasant on a hot July day in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, we got to be inside a sacred place Christians can rarely access because of the tensions there (Jordan actually controls Al Aqsa.) For Muslims, the Dome of the Rock is the spot where Muhammad ascended to heaven. For Jews, this area is part of the Temple Mount. For all three Abrahamic faiths, this is the rock where Abraham bound Isaac and nearly sacrificed his son. To be there was a once in a lifetime experience.
That college Islam Class and visiting the Dome of the Rock has been on my heart this week after seeing the images coming out of New Zealand. The funerals for the victims have begun. People the world over have been showing up to mosques with signs of support for Muslims who are feeling far less secure. People are checking in with Muslim neighbors and friends. New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has encouraged people to make the shooter nameless because he sought notoriety for his hateful act. She called on us to lift up the names of the 50 Muslims who died. It’s hard to know how hate for “the other” gets inside of a person so deeply to motivate them to go to a House of Worship and kill people who are peacefully praying. Though it’s my belief that being open to people who may have a different faith than us and taking time to study, experience religious practices, and just get to know people of different faiths can bring more light and love to the world. It’s why our Discipleship Class will be attending a Shabbat Service at Congregation Ahavath Achim here in town to spend time with our Jewish neighbors. Because Christianity isn’t the only religion in the world! And we can see the beauty in other religions while remaining true to who we are and what we believe. For we remember that at the end of the day, God is love and we are called to walk in love.
(This Week’s Thoughts 3.21.19)