By Walid Jawad
26 November 2014
It wasn’t the first time the Muslim call to prayer was echoed in the Washington National Cathedral, however, last week marked the first time a Friday prayer service was held in the church.
It was a symbolic event exemplifying tolerance, coexistence and shared humanity. The cathedral is a marvellous architectural beauty; the magnanimity of its façade is complemented by the warmth of its hosting clergies’ hearts. On Friday morning, serene and inspired faces walked through the cathedral's arches, many of them Muslim women wearing their Hijabs passing the pews to the front of the grand hall where prayer rugs were unfurled facing Makkah.
The peace was interrupted by a woman who entered the church and walked up to the Muslim congregation yelling out her disapproval. “Leave us alone, leave our churches alone! This is America, founded on Christian principles!” she shouted, before being escorted off the premises.
She was not the only person to object to the event. The Facebook group “2 Million Bikers to DC” attempted to organize a motorcycle ride to the Cathedral to protest the prayer. Although none of the 600 invitees and the 170 confirmed participants showed up, “anti-Muslim sentiments run deep as the war on terror becomes increasingly military based. The general tendency is increased animosity against those associated with the enemy,” said Dr. Richard Rubenstein of the U.S.- based School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution to Al Arabiya News.
The event was organized by ISNA (the Islamic Society of North America), CAIR (the Council on American Islamic Relations), and MPAC (Muslim Public affairs council) – which are nationally recognized prominent Islamic organizations.
These three national groups, in addition to two local Islamic centres; ADAMS (the All Dulles Area Muslim Society) and Masjid Muhammad, sponsored the Friday prayer at the cathedral. These Islamic organizations have been increasingly effective in their grassroots efforts and in reaching out to their fellow Americans, including Masjid Muhammad giving the opening prayer at the U.S. Congress in 2013.
This month’s event was suggested and lead by the South African Ambassador, Ebrahim Rasool.
In his sermon, Rasool laid out the essence of the issues ailing the Muslim world when he said that Muslims “have been challenged to find consistencies between condemning the excesses done in the name of Islam and protesting the mistakes of our countries and our governments.” He added: Muslims “had to manage our dismay that while we seek in this country [the U.S.] the freedom to worship we couldn't promise the same right to Christians where our fellow religionists are in the majority.” The two points of condemning extremists and calling for Muslim nations to extend freedoms to its own religious minorities were the two major points emphasized by the line-up of speakers representing the different Islamic centres.
When the “Khateeb” concluded his sermon the “Muazzin” called for prayer. The echoes of “God Is Great” continued throughout the grand hall of the cathedral ushering the Muslim congregation to stand; men in the first four rows and women in the following three. On their modest attire reflections of colourful sunrays filtered through the stained glass lining the cathedral. That surreal unity of imprints; Islamic rites on Christian marble and reflections of Christian stained glass on Muslims praying was a sight to behold. Among those in attendance were tens of dignitaries and guests belonging to different faiths and denominations listening and observing. When Muslim worshipers stood up to perform their Friday prayer, they too stood up and remained standing as Muslims bowed.
For years, the Cathedral has been active in forging open and sustained lines of communication with Muslim communities within the Washington, DC area. In 2008, the Cathedral hosted a Ramadan Iftar mean, ushering in an era of deeper engagement with members of the Islamic faith.
Walid Jawad is a former Senior Policy Analyst at U.S. Department of State and a former Washington, DC correspondent. He covered American politics for a number of TV outlets since 1997. Walid holds an undergraduate degree (B.A) in Decision Science and Management Information Systems and a Masters in Conflict Analysis and Resolution.