Reflections after Observing Prayer at a Mosque: “Whose spirit was in the room?” (part 2)

By | February 12, 2011

Prayer ended, and we were dismissed for the night. When class met again, our professor stood at the front of the room with his hands tightly clasped. He was clearly attempting to find the right words to say… words that would draw us out of our comfort zones into a meaningful discussion of the previous week’s events.

“What did you feel when you were observing prayer at the mosque last Thursday night?” One by one, the students in the room began to share.

“I felt as though I was among people who really loved God,” one student said sheepishly. She was among the first to speak out, and was obviously afraid of how her comments would be perceived by our more conservative classmates. Other students began to express similar sentiments despite the tension in the room. “I wanted to participate,” someone said, causing some people to giggle nervously. Then, a man at the back of the class said boldly: “I felt as though the Holy Spirit was there.”

A hush fell over the room. The professor’s eyes opened wide. “Let’s go with that. I want to talk about this. You said ‘the Holy Spirit.’ Did anyone else sense– even for just a second– something similar?” I raised my hand and looked around me. I quickly learned that I was not alone. Soon there were two more hands… then four… and finally, nearly one third of the people in the room had raised their hands. I felt myself becoming emotional. My eyes were welling up and I couldn’t stop it. A hot flow of tears rushed down my cheeks. Embarrassed by my lack of composure, I tried to hide my face in the collar of my jacket.

The professor continued… “Tell me: When those men were praying and you felt a spirit in the room, whose spirit was it? In other words: When their children are sick and they call out in prayer, who shows up?”

There was no answer. The students in my World Religions class didn’t want to touch that one with a ten foot pole. My heart began to sink– until a faint voice in the corner of the room spoke…

“Hear, O’ Israel… the Lord your God is One. There’s only one God… but uh… we’re just a handful of the world’s religious people. We can’t have a monopoly on God. It’s just impossible.” His comments were met with overwhelming approbation from the other students. “I think about this all the time,” another student said, “but I don’t know how to get past everything else I’ve learned until now.”

The professor smiled, clearly pleased to be among so many hopeful students. “That’s the purpose of this course. We’re going to talk about things like this without fear.” At that, several of my classmates also became emotional. Soon, the more conservative students began to open up. We all wanted the same things: Answers, understanding, and a way to live committed spiritual lives without dismissing the experiences of others.

Christians protecting Muslims in Egypt during prayer.

Our class came to an end and I went home. I wondered if the hope that existed inside those of us who reacted so emotionally was enough to make an impact on mainstream Christianity. I thought about the other people who feel the way we do, but have no outlet for their feelings. I realized that there are plenty of us out here who are contending with the faith as it is while dreaming with hope about what it can be. I thought about my responsibility as a person of faith and a citizen of our global community, and I wondered how I could contribute more. I prayed for more understanding, and went to bed. It was a night I’ll always remember.

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4 thoughts on “Reflections after Observing Prayer at a Mosque: “Whose spirit was in the room?” (part 2)

  1. Anonymous

    I love that your class had this experience at the mosque and that you all processed it together in such a positive, growing way. I think you will find that the relatedness across religious divides that your class appreciated together is very compatible with what Orthodox Rabbi Brad Hirschfield says in his 2.5 minute video on Faith and Tolerance. He even uses an interfaith metaphor for his interfaith message, reminiscent of Jesus' statement that in his father's house are many rooms…

    I am encouraged that an seminary with students of mixed Christian faiths has such a class conducted in such a positive way. I am a UU seminarian at Meadville Lombard Theological School, one of our only two specifically UU seminaries. And while our curriculum has a lot of good things going for it, one area in which it is lacking is precisely this. Interfaith appreciation and World Religions.

    We have one elective World Religions class, taught as a one-week intensive with no time for such group fieldtrips and processing. Then, as part of our second-year, one of our assignments requires us individually to attend a worship service of a non-UU religious institution (that is 1 service that we choose and arrange on our own, without input from a leader of the congregation we choose) and write a guided reflection on the experience. It is better than nothing. But this kind of shared interfaith experience processed together that you describe here, we don't have.

    Perhaps the fact that people in your seminary are of different religious affiliations makes the exercise you describe more meaningful than a group all of the same denomination attempting to explore an outside experience. But I was present at a Reform synagogue when a relatively uniform group from a Christian college had a session with the rabbi after the service. I'm not sure how they processed the experience back in the classroom, but it was interesting to watch how they chose to engage with their guides to the experience.

    When I am away from home, I love going on religious fieldtrips of my own making. Individual experiences selected and reflected on by me without any group reflection. And I have, at various times, attempted to put together a compound fieldtrip experience for my home congregation. But so far it hasn't happened for logistical and financial reasons.

    Keep up the good work, Crystal! And keep blogging about it!

    Paul Oakley

    blogging at Inner Light, Radiant Life
    and at Night Prayers

  2. Hany Nabil Sadik

    yes in Egypt we protected them, but many Muslims burned our churches, kidnapped our girls, they hate us without a reason, Islam have many good things or things that seem to be good, but it is fake, they now nothing about love, keeping promises, they will betray you one day, just like their Spirit

  3. Joseph Gereis

    Interfaith should mean respecting a person right to believe, however it does not mean respecting a religion that so symmetrical opposed to our notions of human rights and Christian beliefs. To confuse students by drawing them to a mosque to feel a so called presence is dangerous and misleading. I’m sure were I to stand and be present in the Hitler’s early speeches of German patriotism, then I too would be washed by the emotion for the aspiration of greatness as the German nation, However this does not negate the underlying fact that He was a despotic tyrant. Such is the case with Islam and the experience in the mosque. The aspiration to spiritually is not to be question but its path must definitely challenged! So whilst your students feeling in the mosque can be understood it does not change the fact that Islam is inherently wrong in every sense and dimension. I am unequivocal to this fact because I have lived it, seen it, attended it and studied it. If you doubt my word ask any minority who lives in an Islamic country, and you will learn that this is not faith of love and inclusion but a faith of domination and abuse. To cloud that fact is great injustice to the students, our society and our faith.

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