A friend of mine invited me to the Islamic Center in Charleston, WV last weekend. I had never been to a mosque or been involved with Islamic practices so I was happy to share the time with my friend. When we arrived, we had a few moments to participate in the evening prayer. Of course, I did not participate, but I was invited to remove my shoes and sit on the side as the men prayed. It could have been an uncomfortable thing for a stranger to be in their midst during worship, but the men, once finished praying, almost universally greeted me and shook my hand. And why not? In a way, I was surprised at first. My Muslim friend and I are good pals, but I still had this odd thought in my head that these men would be somehow different than other “regular” men. I suppose most of that feeling is related to the ongoing battle between our country and extremist terrorists. These folks at the Islamic Center couldn’t be any more different than the terrorists who claim to be fighting in the name of Islam. That is an important distinction that I strengthened quite a bit as the evening progressed.
The Imam, Ehteshamul Haque, invited two Muslim speakers, Dr. Jerald Dirks and his wife Debra, to open a dialog between Christians, Jews and Muslims regarding their shared history. Dr. Dirks’ talk was entitled “Common Ground Among the Abrahamic Faiths: The Judeo-Christian and Islamic Traditions”. There were people of all sorts of religious backgrounds at the meeting including Muslims, Christians, Jews and Ba’hais.
Dr. Dirks described the shared Old Testament history that is common to Jews, Christians and Muslims including Isaac and Ishmael, Abraham and Sarah and many others. His goal was not to equate the religions or to say they were really all the same, but to educate folks that all three religions, in their true forms, have many similar teachings, morals and goals (such things as do not commit adultery, do not murder, worship one God, build strong families, etc). Dr Dirks suggested that there are many areas where the three religions agree and, if people chose to, could work together to make better communities. All three religions, in their pure forms, can agree that strong families and communities are good. All three can agree that people should treat one another with respect. All three can agree that extremist violence has no place in the world.
Dr. Dirks suggested that where the three religions see eye to eye, they should work together to reach common goals. Of course, the three religions do not see eye to eye on many things, and in those areas, adherents of the three religions should agree to respectfully “do their own thing”. He never suggested that anyone in any religion should be lukewarm or wishy-washy in regard to their beliefs, but just respectful of other folks.
I still do not know a lot about Islam, but I think I learned that there are plenty of good Muslims out there and many of them want to understand other people and live peacefully, just as I do. It was inspiring and wonderful to sit in one room with my friend, among Christians, Jews and Muslims and to listen to each other. I think the world could use a lot more of that…