1/6/06

As-salámu ‘aláikum!

Today over my lunch hour I walked with Mehdi and Dan to a Mosque downtown near State and Adams. On the walk down, among other things, we discussed a bit about organized religion and how it compares to personal individual religion. The entrance was not very clearly labeled but Mehdi knew immediately where it was by all the Arabs coming in from the street. It was very close to the 1:10 start time so the small foyer was packed with men waiting for one of the two small elevators to take us up to the 5th floor. A few men waited in the foyer, making sure things were running smoothly, offering a "Salem Aleikum" to those they recognized. Once at the 5th floor, we squeezed into a packed gathering room where the preaching portion of the service had already begun. Shoes were taken off and placed in shelves on the back wall and in a side room. Some barefoot, some with socks. The front of the room was located in the northeast corner of the room, where a man was giving a moderately strong exhortation. He'd occasionally drop into a language I didn't understand, but then come back to English. He spoke a lot about "amana", which Mehdi later told me is a sort of trust relationship that finds existence between individuals, or individuals and God. It's sort of a debt owed from one to another, when the other chooses to somehow place trust in the person. An example of amana is that when someone confides in you, you do not exploit their confidence, rather, you keep it. The man spoke of many forms of amana, including amana with Allah. Upon completion of his reflection, he lead everyone gathered in prayer. More men squeezed toward the front from the back, and everyone lined up on lines that were patterned in the carpet that would allow them all to face that northeast direction, stand densely packed shoulder-to-shoulder, yet leave enough room in front of each to allow them to bow forward or sit down and lean forward to kiss the ground. Everyone's actions were in synchrony, and they were led by the man at the front, at times praying with him, and at times responding with "Amen" all at the same time.

Through all of this, I gradually began to pray to myself. I was standing off to one side with Dan, who had never been either, and we didn't make the motions or join in the responses. As none of this was in English, I couldn't know what was being said besides the Amens. But I prayed - just as I felt these men were praying - that the Holy Spirit would come down upon us and be with us, to flow in our hearts. In the midst of that crowd, I experienced a physical confirmation that God truly delights in all people, and that he is hard at work in the hearts of all men, regardless of creed or label. Just as I believe my technical description of God to be more accurate than theirs, I also believe that their inaccuracy is something akin to the many failings I experience in my own faith life. God accepts me where I am, if only I turn to him with renewed vigor each day anew.

As it ended, we all crowded towards the back to collect our shoes, and many Salem Aleikum's were exchanged, including to me. When I was first hearing these, I thought they were "Shalom Aleichem" as exchanged by Jews, and I actually responded once with that, but Mehdi later corrected me, noting jokingly that it could be perceived that I was trying to pick a fight. The main difference being the pronunciation of the "Salem", not the "Shalom", though both greetings mean the same thing. "Peace be with you".

We walked down two flights of stairs to a room where plates of Indian food were being dished out, each was a styrofoam plate filled with pork (I think, maybe chicken) fried rice with plenty of cury sauce in it. And cans of Sprite. Very good food! Mehdi told us a little of what was going on as we ate, and then we walked back to the office, even getting a chance to receive some amana from Mehdi during the walk.

Pope John Paul II - Address at Omayyad Mosque of Damascus - 6 May 2001