In early August, nine members of Prince of Peace took the Islamic Center of Maryland up on their offer to take part in an Iftar - the evening meal to break the daily Ramadan fast. We experienced generous hospitality. From the samoosas we were handed as we walked in, to guidance after the prayers, to the conversation during the meals, we were graciously made to feel at home. We wondered aloud if visitors feel this welcome when they come to Prince of Peace. We hope they do.
When we arrived, I had thrilling the sense of being somewhere foreign. The women spoke a variety of languages and were draped in richly woven silks and scarves. Though we were only ten miles from church, I felt like I was in a different country. We were surrounded by women from all over the world, brought together because of a common religious tradition. Some spoke no English; others spoke English as I do - the only language they really know. I couldn't assess the background of the individual women I met until we talked. That meant each encounter was new and surprising.
At mealtime, a couple of us from Prince of Peace sat down with two young adult women. Not sure of what kind of conversation would follow, I was delighted to find that these sisters were neighbors to our church and had gone to the high school down the block. One was a law student; the other a PhD student. We discovered a common interest in the meaning of fasting across religious traditions. I felt at ease asking questions about Muslim women and religious leadership. Our conversation was natural. The experience quickly morphed from feeling foreign to feeling familiar.
The very next day I was out walking with a college student catching up before she headed back to school. We passed one of the sisters on her jog. I hardly recognized her in the transformation from worship clothes to running clothes. We all stopped for a moment and chatted like neighbors. She is so...normal.
I sometimes get taken by surprise when I realize that I am among the religious. I mean, of course I know I am religious. But people unfamiliar with my tradition - and even those who are familiar - probably see me as different from them in a way I never think of myself.
I dress up in a fancy white robe and special clothes and lead rituals that must feel as foreign to some as the Iftar is to me. Yet I think of myself as normal, not as the odd one or the outsider. But of course in this neighborhood it is I - not those sisters - who is the foreigner. They've lived here for much longer.
Since we visited, so much has happened to change the world. Libyan rebels have gained power; the US economy has gone on free fall; The earth shifted under my feet in a historic east coast quake. And still, faithful Muslims around the world and in our neighborhoods are fasting and praying. I admire the faithfulness of that tradition. I have learned from it. And I am grateful to have been welcomed by my neighbors.