A week ago last Wednesday, I attended an event at the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts here in West Springfield. The event was attended by Jews, Christians and, of course, Muslims. Our Muslim brothers and sisters opened their house of worship to friends, neighbors, and members of other faith communities to share in the celebration of the breaking of the fast at the end of the day during the month of Ramadan.
The Christian community was represented by Episcopalians, Methodists, Congregationalists, Roman Catholics, and more. I was a very proud Christian that evening, as I watched members of the Islamic Society explain the traditions of their faith during this holy time, especially the tradition of daily fasting. Then we all witnessed the testimony of a member of the Christian faith who also talked about the tradition of fasting and atonement; then we listened to a member of the Jewish faith also explain their traditions of fasting and their season of atonement.
There was serious talk about prejudice and hate and hurt, but there was also humor and laughter among the many guests sitting at tables of mixed faiths as we all got to know each other. We were also invited to join our Muslim brothers and sisters in worship and prayers, then ended the evening with a wonderful meal prepared by the Islamic community.
What was the best part? The fellowship that was shared at each table as we learned not what makes us different but what makes us the same. I learned a lot of things I didn’t know about Islam as a faith and I imagine the Jewish guests learned a little more about Christianity and I think the Muslims learned a little more about Judaism. No one was trying to convert anyone; we were all just being a community of peace, reconciliation, and mutual support.
What was different about this group of about 100 people was the intelligence and openness and willingness to learn and to understand each other. Holding our local Islamic community responsible for terrorist acts is as ignorant as blaming me for World War II because my mother was German.
The verses that were read from the Qur’an that evening were as beautiful and meaningful as those from my own Bible. They were words of peace and doing right and loving God’s creation. I am not a Muslim, but I have come to know these Muslim neighbors as good people, as people of deep faith and mostly as people of peace.
I swear that if we could just get to know and understand each other a little better, we can achieve world peace in our lifetime, one small meeting at a time.
Jesus said, “The first commandment is this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”