Saturday, December 26, 2015

Celebrating Christmas by Visiting a Mosque

Yesterday was an unusual Christmas for us.  I'm beginning to think that there's no such thing as a usual Christmas, but yesterday was highly unusual.

At 1:15, we headed over to our church to be part of a group that took a peace lily and a card to the mosque that's down the street from our Lutheran church.  On the fourth Sunday in Advent, church members had an opportunity to write good wishes on the card:

Later, our pastor read the card to make sure that all would be well.  Happily, the most risky thing that anyone had written was "Merry Christmas."

Just before 2:00 on Christmas afternoon, we drove over to the mosque.  We weren't sure what to expect.  It's the kind of mosque with separate entrances for males and females, but after we took our shoes off, we were all seated in the male section on chairs.

Most of the males were seated on the floor.  Older males with mobility issues sat on chairs.  Some of the males stood up and then kneeled deeply with foreheads on the floor--some did this regularly, some only as they first came in, some not at all, and some followed a pattern I couldn't discern.

We were seated as the speaker (the imam?) delivered an address that seemed like a sermon.  The themes of the sermon weren't unfamiliar to me:  you show your love for Allah and his prophet Muhammad by being the best version of yourself.  People are judging all Muslims by our behavior, so pay attention to how you behave in the world.  It's not enough to behave properly, but you also need to act out of love.  The supremacy of love and the beating back of fear were themes woven through the 40 minute part that we heard.

People kept arriving throughout the talk.  After the talk, we got to witness the time of prayer.  I thought, I am a white, Christian woman seated on the male side of the mosque; I am not likely ever to witness this again.

The prayers were in Arabic (I think).  There was a time of standing, a time of deep kneeling, some motion similar to the crossing of oneself that some Christians do.  The leader did most of the chanting, and at one point, the men answered back.

It was a fascinating experience, all of it, from an ecumenical standpoint and from an exercise in modern Sociology/Anthropology.

I had one moment of disbelief tinged by fear, during the sermon time as more and more men filled the room.  I thought, what am I doing here, a good Lutheran girl surrounded by Muslim men--not safe, not safe, not safe!  And then I laughed at myself, a woman on a peace mission who feels that flare of fear.  I reminded myself that no one wants any trouble, that I'm in the U.S., not some remote part of the world--and even in a remote part of the world, I would likely be treated with respect.  Those horrific crimes, like the woman raped to death in India on a bus at Christmas a few years ago, those make the news because they are so bizarre and out of the ordinary.

I also know that my white skin and U.S. citizenship buys me protection that many females across the world don't have, but we weren't at the mosque to discuss that.  We were at the mosque to bring a message of peace and hope on Christmas day.  And I had noticed that there was a police officer on hand--not to protect me, but to protect the mosque.

In the South Florida area we've only had a few anti-Muslim incidents, some graffiti, and some of that just hateful or strange, not necessarily targeted at Muslims--they happened in the same week of some anti-Jewish incidents.  There's plenty of hate out there.

Luckily, the men in the mosque were very welcoming.  The leader invited us to the front to make a speech.  Our pastor gave our message of peace and good will and hope for continued co-existence.  Lots of men held up their phones and iPads and took pictures.  As we filed out, people shook our hands, thanked us for coming, wished us a Merry Christmas, and outside, offered us a fried falafel-like ball.

It was an amazing experience, one completely outside of our usual Christmas celebrations, but one that felt right at home.  As our pastor reminded us one Christmas Eve, if we leave the baby Jesus as a cute infant in the manger, we've lost the point.  Jesus came to equip us to do exactly what we did yesterday--to reach out to people who are very unlike us, to make community and neighbors out of unlikely groups.

It was a great way to celebrate the birth of Jesus, of God breaking into the world in new and unlikely ways.  It was a great way to let our light shine, so that the darkness does not overcome it.

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