As we continue our conversation about the possibilities and limitations of inter-religious/interfaith worship, we offer the following Muslim perspective on interfaith worship. It is drawn from a conversation between Adam Ericksen and Dr. Esmail Koushanpour entitled "Learning, Serving...Praying?: A Christian-Muslim Conversation" in this issue of Liturgy. The question addressed here is the goal of interfaith worship. Dr. Koushanpour responds:
The first goal of interfaith worship is to get to know one another. The Qur'an says, “I created you from different nations so you can get to know one another” (49:13). How do you get to know one another? Eat a meal together. Exchange information. Learn from one another for the sake of God. We are all trying to please God. Can we learn from one another about different ways of worshiping God? Can we live into the spirit of our religious traditions and “compete with one another to do good works” (5:48)? Interfaith worship should remind us that God desires for us to be merciful, compassionate, and loving toward one another.
Interfaith encounters do not mean we have to debate. Rather, we should come together in the spirit of learning from one another. Dialogue means we can disagree, but we do not need to be disagreeable. Arrogance has no place in interfaith worship. The point is not to compete with one another by claiming my religion is better than yours; rather, the point is to learn and be reminded of God's mercy, grace, and compassion.
For many Muslims, the impetus for interfaith worship is summed up in the words of the thirteenth-century Persian poet Saadi. Reflecting on our common humanity, Saadi wrote:
Human beings are members of a whole,In creation of one essence and soul.If one member is afflicted with pain,Other members uneasy will remain.
Interfaith worship should remind us both of the oneness of God and of the oneness of humanity. It should invite us to open our hearts to this radical vision for humanity. Regardless of faith, creed, color, or nationality, humans are interconnected. We share a common destiny of our own making. If we live into God's mercy and compassion, we will have a bright future of shared mercy and compassion. If, on the other hand, we seek to harm one another, we will create a future of violence and revenge.
Worship is not just going to a synagogue, church, or mosque. Worship is a way of life. It means being aware of God all the time, remembering God and thanking God. If you walk to God, God will run to you. He loves you more than anyone else does and wants you to remember him. This message was delivered by every prophet.
The Qur'an shares the same message with other religious texts. It gives both a warning and good news. It tells us that we need to take responsibility for this message of mercy and compassion. Worship is to remind us to practice God's mercy, grace, compassion, love, and desire for social justice.
How would you answer this question from your own religious tradition?
Dr. Esmail Koushanpour is emeritus professor of physiology of the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois. He has served as executive director of the Islamic Cultural Center of Greater Chicago and as advisor on Islamic affairs to the president of the Graduate Theological Foundation in South Bend, Indiana.
Adam Ericksen is education director at the Raven Foundation, a not-for-profit educational organization that seeks to foster an understanding of social influences and positive ways of addressing conflict.