Washington National Cathedral Welcomes American Muslim Community
For the first time ever , the Washington National Cathedral welcomed the American Muslim community into its house of worship for a Friday prayer service on November 14. "The significance of this moment in our nation’s interfaith history lies in the fact that the National Cathedral was designated by Congress as the 'National House of Prayer,' " commented Haris Tarin, MPAC Director of the Washington, DC, Office. "This grand moment symbolizes our faithfulness as Americans and our ability to unite as one."
Tarin added: "From the inception of our nation, faith has played an instrumental role in defining our character as individuals and as a collective. America’s founders were cognizant of how important faith was in the lives of Americans. It was faith which prompted them to flee their nations of origin and come to a place where they were able to worship their creator how they saw fit, and for many of us that is still the case today.
"As South African Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool said during the sermon today, 'The more bridges that are built, the less room there is for fear and prejudice between us.' In many of our faith traditions, the best way to repel misunderstanding is to do good together, to pray together and to find common ground together. The Qur'an inspires its readers to do just that when in a landmark verse it says, 'And not equal are the good deed and the bad. Repel by that which is better; and thereupon the one whom between you and him is enmity as though he was a devoted friend'(41:34).
"News of the Friday prayer service being held at the National Cathedral has sparked a national conversation around interfaith relations in America and led many to question why this service was even taking place. We remind them that there is nothing more Christian, Muslim and American than praying together," Tarin concluded.
In his report on the event, Dawn's Anwar Iqbal wrote:
Prayer rugs were laid out. A man in the first row read out the Azaan. “Allah ho Akbar”, said the imam and the prayer began.
These words are repeated in millions of mosques across the world everyday but this was a historic occasion for Washington: the first-ever Friday congregation at the National Cathedral in the US capital.
“Amazing, a truly spiritual experience,” said a worshipper as the call for prayer echoed from the vaulted stone arches and resounded across the huge cathedral.
“Let us stretch our hearts and let us seek to deepen mercy for we worship the same God,” said Reverend Gina Campbell as she welcomed Muslim worshippers to the cathedral, calling it “a place of prayer for all people”.
South Africa’s Ambassador to the US, Ebrahim Rasool, led the prayer. He reminded the worshippers that they were holding this service in troubled times “when mischief is threatening the world”.
“If we do not stop them, they will also disturb the peace that we experience at our places of worship,” he said while referring to the “sensitivity and humility” they experienced at the cathedral.
He specifically mentioned the militants who were killing Christians in the Middle East and urged Muslims to stop them before it was too late.
“A great inter-faith gesture, a reminder that now is the time to act for peace,” said Victor V. Gill, a leader of the Pakistani Christian community in the United States.
“Everyone there from the National Cathedral was just so friendly to me and to all Muslims attending,” said Seeme Gul Khan Hasan, a Muslim community leader.
The event was closed to the public, and there was heavy security. Only those invited could attend the prayer and police checked everyone entering the cathedral to make sure others did not come.
Organizers said they were forced to take additional security measures because of threats they received after the event was publicized.
Nevertheless, a protester — a well-dressed middle-aged woman — managed to enter the premises and reminded the audience that not all shared their vision for inter-faith harmony and peace. “America was founded on Christian principles, leave our church alone,” she shouted before she was led out of the prayer hall.
A hate message also came from Reverend Franklin Graham, the son of a world-renowned evangelist Billy Graham, who said that the cathedral was an Episcopal church established under a charter granted by Congress more than 100 years ago. “It is sad to see the church” opening its doors to Muslim worshippers, he said.
Rev Campbell and Ambassador Rasool, who were the first to plan a Friday prayer inside the cathedral, said they were not discouraged by such remarks, as they believed that it was important to promote inter-faith harmony to curb violence.
The two thought of holding the prayers when they organized an inter-faith memorial service for Nelson Mandela last year.
In an interview with VOA, Ebrahim Rasool said he hoped that a time would come when non-Muslims would be allowed to pray according to their own traditions even in mosques in Saudi Arabia.
“I think that we must return to the Muslim prophetic tradition in which the Prophet, may peace be upon him, invited Christians to his own mosque that he established in Madina — and to say to them, you can pray here.”