Monday, May 07, 2007

Singular Pluralism

sin·gu·lar [sing-gyuh-ler] –adjective
1. extraordinary; remarkable; exceptional: a singular success.
2. unusual or strange; odd; different: singular behavior.

plu·ral·ism [ploor-uh-liz-uhm] –noun
1. a social organization in which diversity of racial or religious or ethnic or cultural groups is tolerated
I spent this weekend at a kind of campground out in the sticks as part of an interfaith dialogue project. The interfaith aspect means participants included Muslims, Christians, and Jews, and they were all women. This was a very unique experience for me, being someone relatively new to the “interfaith” platform, but what is so special about such a weekend is that, with the emphasis being on understanding other communities, the participants were both informed about their own faith and open to learning about the others. Prejudices and biases were checked at the door, and the weekend passed alhamdulillah without conflict.

One thing I’ve found interesting is the reluctance on the part of Christians especially to participate in interfaith work, or the difficulty we have in finding these Christians. There were, in fact, only three Christian ladies there for the weekend, in comparison to 6 Jews and 8 Muslims.

Being the first of an annual event, the weekend had a number of “kinks” and the Muslim sisters chatted just briefly the last evening about what planning could have amended some of the imbalance as far as explaining about other religions. With the event starting Friday evening, the entire group was able to experience the Shabbat (Sabbath) rites, for both starting and ending the day (which is at sunset, btw.)

Many of the women (dare I say most?) gladly participated in the Dhuhr/Asr prayer Saturday afternoon, after observing the prayers Friday night. We even pulled extra scarves for them all to cover. One of the Jewish ladies spoke about Miriam’s well, about which there is some Jewish tradition—a well that was first entrusted to a woman who was not Jewish(!), namely Hajar/Haygar while she was in the desert with her son Isma’il. Now of course the Muslim tradition names this as the Zamzam well which is of course still in Makkah today. Miriam’s well, as they called it, was a well that would appear and reappear as needed for the Jews, last appearing to Miriam (the sister of Moses) while the Jews were wandering in the desert. The similarities are fascinating really, the idea of a well that people can’t quite explain, to this day. One particularly interesting thing to note was that when we brought out the Zamzam water (a sister had brought some in bottles to share) was the lady who had given the talk about Miriam’s well, when looking at the bottles of Zamzam water, exclaimed that that is exactly how Miriam’s well had been described!

We played a game Saturday morning, interfaith jeopardy—it’s interesting to see how much we actually don’t know about other faiths! And in the afternoon we did a real “dialogue” session talking about solidarity with our faith communities, which allowed us to open up. We found that we (the women participating) have more in common with each other than even with some people in our own faith traditions. The Christians present especially had that reaction, it seemed. This evening there was more sitting about and chatting, about religions and especially about politics.

Politics, you might say?

Absolutely—because to an astonishing degree, most of the women were of the same mind about American (and even world) international policies. We found that we all lament the oppression throughout the world, the hatred between peoples, and the corruption of leadership. Many of the women there, beyond just having informed opinions, are also active in their communities in trying to bring about change in today’s world, change for the better.

Not to mention, I’m increasingly amazed at the overwhelming similarities between Islam and Judaism, and between Arabic and Hebrew—such that we can even begin to translate each other’s prayers into English! And that we all see our faith as a vehicle of hope which makes us stronger and gives us even more reasons to establish peace and justice—unlike what “faith” seems to do to some people, whose most ardent desire appears as nothing other than absolute domination, and who see faith as a tool for the establishment thereof.

May Allah make us of those who establish peace and justice.


E. said...

Amy, hope you had a perfect weekend. :-)

I would suggest you to make a journey or going outside rather than exploring faiths. I mean it may be diffcult, fitna, to argue other faiths unless you have studied dawaa and feel strong enough to argue.

Amy said...

For me, the entire purpose was da'wah-oriented. One of the Jewish ladies at the end said the highlight of the weekend for her was participating in that prayer, dhuhr/asr, with the Muslimaat.

I don't study other faiths for my own spiritual journey--as far as my own spirituality I could content myself with Qur'an alone actually.

But things like this open the door for communication between groups which might otherwise be hostile to each other (Muslims and Jews) over issues that are sensitive to both (like Israel). Plus it gives us, Muslims, a perspective on Judaism that is not defensive, and an understanding we can utilize when giving da'wah.

For example, I don't know of any of the Muslims who decided to pick up a Torah and read it after the weekend, but a number of Jewish ladies who have decided to read the Qur'an and increase their study of Islam.

I think that's something.

Not to mention, the Jewish lady I mentioned above who enjoyed the prayer was one who seemed most interesting in a greater study of Islam--as a spiritual path. When the idea of prayer moves someone to tears, as she said it did, I can't help but see it making an impression on her heart, so I make du'a that Allah swt guides her to Islam.

Aviator said...

mashaa allah,

hope you best of thawab in dawaa.

Holly said...

This sounds interesting I want to go to one

Yusuf Smith said...

As-Salaamu 'alaikum,

Among the reasons why Christians do not go to such events may be that they are in power, and feel no need to "reach out" to people of other faiths. After all, you meet people of their faith every day, at school and work. I don't know about the USA, but in this country (the UK) people are notoriously bad about learning foreign languages, something which is not replicated on the European mainland, where the languages are often specific to one country or area, or in decline overseas, or only spoken in poorer countries, which is not the case with English. People simply do not feel the need to learn other languages, and it may be similar with Christians meeting non-Christians and talking about religion with them.

Also, with regard to non-Muslims participating in Muslim prayers, would you like people to expect you to participate in non-Islamic prayers? I know I would not. Many scholars allow Muslims to participate in the social aspects of festivals like Christmas, but draw the line at going to church or participating in worship (and if there is shirk involved, as is often the case with Christian worship, bear in mind that this is far worse than eating the pork on the table at the Christmas dinner). I think interfaith events should not expect this of participants.

Amy said...

Wa alaikum as-salaam

Yusuf, you said: Also, with regard to non-Muslims participating in Muslim prayers, would you like people to expect you to participate in non-Islamic prayers?

Definitely not! In fact, one thing we said at the outset of the weekend was not to participate in anything which made us uncomfortable. We did not participate in any Christian worship, btw, and the Jews were adamant about that too, calling Jesus Lord for example was a nono for us all. When we read the prayers for Shabbat we were careful not to say anything that could in the slightest be seen as shirk.

That the Jews were willing to participate in that prayer, and one of the Christians as well, was very special. Nobody was forced to participate in anything, it was entirely optional. And they chose to do that. To reiterate, it was not an expectation. There were in fact some lines we wouldn't read in the Jewish prayers. :-)

Aviator said...

Amy this sounds good, but i wish to make sure if this non-muslim try the do salat is halal or not.

probably this combination of faiths at the weekend needs scholars, specialized and studied these situations!

Amy said...

Halal or not? To pray?

The salaat in Islam is a very special experience, and I explained to some of the ladies how it makes so much sense to me that we do these motions and the only way to really "get" that concept, how natural it feels to prostrate before Allah swt, is to do it.

And believe it or not I think that was a method of da'wah and I've never heard aught against it.

Aviator said...


Do you think of this method as an innovative way in dawa ???
LOL, i hope to be a new way. However, i wanna you to register it first with a scholar, so many muslims can try this invention after being sure it is suitable for use.

barak allah fiki