The other day I paid a visit to our local Mosque. I emailed the Imam and asked for a time when he could welcome me to his Mosque. After some time (one postponed attempt) I showed up at the appointed time, just after the 1:30 prayer. The Imam welcomed me and I took off my shoes. He gave me a tour of the Mosque. First, we peeked in a washroom like area where the men do their ablutions (ritual washings to prepare for prayer). Then we went into the main prayer area, facing Mecca. Men prayed on the main floor, women on the second floor behind glass (I guess those who arrive early get a better view). I looked at the carpet and discovered that it was divided up, so individuals do not need to bring their own prayer rug. In the front was an ornate chair for the Imam to sit on during Friday prayers. I asked the Imam if he sat there when he preached – but he replied that Imams stand when they give the sermon.
After the tour we went to a meeting room that reminded me of a council room. One of his members imports tea so he had several boxes stacked up. That was to be our drink so I chose lemon. As we enjoyed the donated tea we talked a bit about ministry. Imams, like pastors, are very busy with many pressing needs in their congregation. I asked him about his preparation and training and he described a lengthy process that reminded me of my time at Calvin Theological Seminary. He told me that he was gifted with the ability to memorize the Quran. Not all apparently are.
I expressed interest in further dialogue but I am not sure his busy schedule will allow it. I explained that we in the Christian Reformed Church are interested in dialogue with our Muslim neighbor. I gave him my card and welcomed him to visit our Salaam Project website. I asked him if he and his congregants were affected by ISIS and current events in the Middle East. He told me that they weren’t really affected (there is less anti-Muslim sentiment in this part of Canada). He said that many of his congregants come from Egypt, which reminded me of our CRCNA delegation to Egypt last year where we met the Grand Imam of Al Azar Mosque. I mentioned that it was an honor to visit with this important Muslim leader. I asked him if he would be open to having people from the church come to the Mosque for a visit, and to learn more about Islam–of course he was open to that. I explained to him that as Christians we want to stand firmly in our own faith, while we learn about others. That is part of being a good neighbor.
As I was leaving I noticed a sign advertising a second hand clothing exchange to raise money for dawa. Dawa is the Islamic term for missions. That reminded me of a store I have frequented in the past–Bibles for Missions. We are a people also on mission, but it begins with dialogue and honest relationships. It also begins with obedience to God’s call to reach out to our religious neighbors. They are only a call or email away. You don’t have to start with the Imam. But you could.
A good curriculum to help your congregation get started is called Loving our Religious Neighbor. For more information see www.lorneighbors.com or go to our website www.crcna.org/salaam for more resources. If you are in the Los Angeles area please join us on October 24-25 at Anaheim CRC for a Salaam Project conference. To register go to www.crwm.org/anaheim.