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Interfaith Dialogue ( 24 Sept 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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A Muslim in a Church and a Jew in a Mosque


20 Sep, 2011

When I attended schools in the US and later on as a liaison officer for the Saudi Navy in Pensacola, I have seen worship houses next to each others.

Mosques, churches, synagogues and other temples. And when your religion is one of these faiths, then you will go to one. And you may not see the other. Yes, you will read about the other faiths, but most of the time you will concentrate on the differences rather than the similarities. And yes, there are differences. But, I have seen very important things in common. And it is the encouragement of all faiths to respect the human soul. And in all religions, killing of innocent human being is at the top of sins. And all faiths encourage kindness to each other.

The funny thing is that most followers of different faiths talk to each other with love and trust. But, the very small number of radicals makes all the noise and mistrust. When I was in Pensacola Naval Air Station our Saudi Navy office held two parties every year for the Eid. They were Eid Al-Fitr (Ramadan) and Eid Al-Adha (Haj). Parties were held for all Saudi Navy aviation trainees and their families. We held most of the parties at different places that were public, such as parks or lake sides rather than hotels. The reason for that is Eid Al-Fitr is not known until Saudi authorities announce the sighting of the new moon to confirm the end of Ramadan. And that is less than one day’s notice.

So, at one time we celebrated the happy Eid in a park in Milton, Florida. And we invited some non-Muslims who worked with us at the Naval Air Station and they gladly accepted. And on one Eid, we were not able to find a public park that was available. And out of the blue we got an offer from a very large beautiful church to celebrate the Eid in the church. And the priest told us we can stay all day and all night celebrating the Eid. One of the Saudi aviators wanted to check if it was OK from a religious point of view and he called the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia. And the answer came back. And it said, Omar Bin Al-Khatab, the second caliph in the Islamic history prayed in a church. So, it is OK to celebrate the Eid in a church. After the party, the priest refused to take any money as a rent fee. But, I insisted on giving him at least something to cover the electricity usage. We celebrated all night. And until this day, I don't remember if he took the money or not. That was in mid-1990s.

After Sept.11, 2001, I thought it would be hard to do the same thing. I am happy that I was wrong. About two years ago I heard about a small Virginian town (Reston) had some Muslims in their community who were observing the holy month of Ramadan and during the night, the place of prayer was not large enough for the worshipers. And the solution came from the Jewish community who offered their place of worship to the Muslim community. This beautiful gesture will last forever in the hearts of the Muslims and Jews in this small town.

Now, if you think this is a nice story, then it gets better. About three months ago, I wrote an article in the Arab News about the conflict in the Middle East. I received hundreds of e-mails from all over the world. One of the most touching was from an Israeli rabbi. He told me that one day he saw some Jewish kids writing graffiti on a mosque's walls. And as far as I know, this happens even in Muslim countries. Kids will always be kids. But, this Israeli rabbi went with some of his friends to the imam of the mosque and told him they will clean and repaint the walls of the mosque. And, yes, they did. And the rabbi bought copies of the Holy Qur’an and gave them to the mosque as a gift. This simple gesture built bridges of trust among the Palestinian and Israeli kids.

Why don't we read about these stories in the press? Why does the press write about the clash of civilizations rather than what these civilizations had accomplished? Why the mistrust between civilizations during an era of mass communications? How can we misunderstand each other during the Internet era? It costs a lot less to build bridges of trust. We sent massages to outer space to see if there is life in the faraway galaxies. And we still kill each other just for having the wrong name. I mean, can't we all get along?

Abdulateef Al-Mulhim is based in Alkhobar, Saudi Arabia.

Source: Arab News