6:35 PM I've been productive today; my sermon is almost finished, I cleaned off my desk and a couple other messy corners, and walked a mile. So, I am rewarding myself by spending a few minutes writing.

The Prayer Call

I've already raved about Dr. Shafiq, our Muslim professor for Introduction to Islam. He outdid his own graciousness last Wednesday when we went to the Mosque. He gave us a tour of the space, allowing us to enter the men's prayer room. He provided us with fresh fruit, coffee, tea and juice. And he invited us to watch the Salat--the prayers.

What moved me the most was this quiet, devout man, inviting us to watch the ritual cleansing every Muslim performs before entering the prayer space. This is a very intimate act, and itself is a form of prayer. We crowded into the women's washing area to watch his demonstration of how to wash. There was total silence, except for the sound of splashing water, and his quiet voice explaining what he was doing.

He answered all our questions, smart, silly, and serious, and we went upstairs to the classroom. At 5 minutes of 1, he told us to have refreshments, or to watch from the balcony, as the prayers were recited. At one, we were milling around the classroom when this incredible voice began the Adhan, the call to prayer. There was instant quiet in the classroom, and we silently filed onto the balcony. The lovely chanting affected all of us. We stood, heads bowed, praying our own prayers as the men downstairs went through the ritual ra'ka.

This ancient ritual, performed with great solemnity and devotion, is simple, but impressive. As I am writing this, there is a report on the TV about John Walker, the American who studied Islam in Pakistan. The Mufti points out that the American was a peaceful man. It is so hard, and so necessary, to divide the religion of Islam from the extremists.

After the prayers, we returned to our classroom, buzzing about what we had experienced and what we had felt. Class continued, and during a classmate's presentation the prayer call began again. She stopped in mid-sentence, sat with her hands folded, and again the room was silent, as we listened to the lovely call to prayer. Our professor left quietly to join in the prayers, and we took a break.

0n the way back to the dorm, our carfull of usually talkative women was quiet, each of us processing what we had experienced. By dinner time, we were ready to talk, and we had a lively discussion. All of us agreed that the wudu, the ritual washing, and the adhan, the call to prayer, were the highlights of our visit.

My dentist asked me yesterday what the Islamic "church" doesn't speak out against the terrorists. It is so hard to explain that Islam doesn't have the hierarchy that the Christian Church has, or even Judaism. There is no "one" to speak out. It is up to individual Muslims, like Dr. Shafiq, to try to explain what their religion is. And many of them do try. The Imams, like Dr. Shafiq, have no authority over their Mosque's congregation; an Imam is just a prayer leader. Some, like Dr. Shafiq, take responsibility for much more than that. He is a counselor, a confidant, and an administrator of the center. But more importantly in this climate, he is a spokesperson on an Interfaith committee that is very active.

But there is no official mechanism for this to take place, so it is up to the local Muslim community to find a spokesperson. One of the best in the city where the seminary is located is a devout Roman Catholic, who is studying for Holy Orders. He has been taking classes in Arabic at the center, and studying the Qur'an with a Qari, a prayer caller who has an exceptional voice, for 8 years. He is eloquent and passionate about the need for the rest of us to understand Islam.

No one ended the class with a desire to become a Muslim. In fact, I think for many of us this experience helped us to define and explain our own beliefs more accurately. But we did end the class with a great deal of respect for one of the largest and fastest growing religions in the world. And we all have a tremendous respect and fondness for Dr. Shafiq.

Life is good, varied, and mysterious. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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