On Sunday evening, June 4, I arrived to a warm welcome at the Rainbow Turkish House and joined others from St. Philip’s as we listened to a wonderful concert of Eastern music. At the end of the concert I asked the music leader about the Sufi music I’d heard. When he understood that I had a background in music theory, he told me briefly about the music and said he’d get together with me later in the evening.
We spoke of many things that evening. We spoke of family -- how our mothers treated us and how we treated our children -- the kinds of things that were passed down generationally and how although we respected our elders, our focus was primarily on our children in our younger years.
We spoke of the pre-dawn time of prayer, and I likened that to my sunrise walks in the park and talked about our Morning Prayer service. We all agreed that when the birds were chattering back and forth at sunrise it was in praise of God.
I was asked what the differences were between the different Christian denominations. What a big question that was. I told them it was a large subject but explained how we were one of the liturgical denominations and provided an explanation of what the liturgy was and how it differed from a non-liturgical church service. We had shared conversation about the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer and the Koran, particularly about the beauty of the written prayers.
We talked about how the Islam Call to Prayer went directly to my heart every time I heard it. Fatima in translation said all the women at the table agreed that it went to their hearts too -- but only deeply when they heard it "live" and not on their cell phones.
Fatima spoke of how she had grown up in the Muslim faith and followed everything faithfully. It wasn't until she came to the US seventeen years ago and people began to ask her questions about Islam that she realized she didn't know why she was doing the things she was doing in worship. So she studied, learned the answers, and her faith became very meaningful to her. She was then able to share that with others when questioned about her faith. She is now one of the spokeswomen at the Rainbow Turkish House. I shared with the women that until I came to St. Philip’s Episcopal Church and learned about our traditions in classes taught by our Priest that I'd had similar experiences of "doing" but not always "knowing".
We spoke about the dietary customs for Muslims. Fatima shared that it started with the manner in which the animals were slaughtered for food. Much like the Jewish Kosher laws, there are laws in Islam for the manner of slaughtering and for the care taken with the meat (usually from goats and sheep – no pork is eaten). She said there was a prayer repeated softly to the animal who was lulled by the words of the prayer, thanking the animal for its life and giving assurance that God had blessed its life which would now sustain other lives. Then when the animal was quiet and understood, the end of life came in a way where the brain was not connected in pain to the process. That made it sacred. Their primary diet was vegetarian and Fatima spoke about the life within each plant. I spoke to her about our offering -- the recognition that all things came from God and from his own gifts we gave back.
All but one mother and daughter at my table were citizens of the US, some being granted citizenship within the past two years. Fatima shared that the two who were not citizens had just been notified that they were approved to apply for citizenship and it was a night of celebration about that for them. I asked if they felt fear about the uncertainty of immigration, and Fatima affirmed that it was a difficult time for most. She said that the United States used to be a place of refuge and peace where you could come and find safety. Now that feeling of security was gone. These women were fearful and because of the purge from which they fled only a short time ago, they cannot go back to Turkey. After seventeen years here, (during which most of that time she had been a US citizen) Fatima was surprised that the feelings of uncertainty which had left her long ago had returned.
When it came time for Prayer, none of the women got up to go. I asked if they were going to the prayer room and Fatima explained that the women could say their own shorter prayers at our table and that they were staying. Her daughter had been holding Fatima’s toddler whose diaper had leaked on her daughter's clothing and she would not have been clean enough to go into the prayer room. Therefore all the women stayed behind. So I stayed with them at their invitation.
Then the gentleman who had led the music came to talk to me. I'd asked him earlier about the structure of the Sufi music. When he later came to my table, he brought me a handout of all of the Eastern scale structures as well as one of the intricate and varied rhythms characteristic of specific genres in Eastern music. During his time with me I was given a full introduction to the theory of Eastern music. He was so knowledgeable and thorough!
And suddenly I was saying my goodbye's to the beautiful women with whom I'd shared the evening, and then we were taking pictures, and then I was driving with God in my heart through the crazy rainstorm, and finally I was safely home after experiencing one of the most treasured times in recent memory.
What an amazingly rich and blessed experience. I echo Ashley’s sentiments stated in last weeks’ e-news:
“It is truly an honor and privilege to enjoy the Iftar and stand beside our Muslim friends during these times.”