Interfaith Encounters Day 6

Our Friday began with a visit to the Islamic Society of Greater Valley Forge.

Uncontroversial Mosque

We were greeted warmly by members of their community and also their Imam. We met in the original, smaller building where Muslims first gathered to pray and organize before they were able to build the current structure you see above.

This Muslim community is unique in that they share property and space with both a Baptist church and a Jewish community. This demonstrates their desire for both cooperation and also their work to dispel the various stereotypes that exist about the religion of Islam.

As the Imam said to all of us, it is best always to go to the source of each religious tradition in order to really understand. I encourage you to pick up a copy of the Qur’an in whichever language you speak. Read it and then explore further by contacting either a local mosque or simply engage in conversation with Muslims where you live. This is the best way to learn and to cooperate!

Back to our experience….

We had some time to hear from the various members [male and female] of their community as they shared their perspectives on Islam and how they live out their faith. The Alvernia students asked some good questions.

Then, it was time for Jumu’ah prayer.

Jumu’ah [jum`ah, Arabic, ṣalāt al-jum`ah] means “Friday prayer” and is a congregational prayer that Muslims hold every Friday, just after noon.

Uncontroversial Mosque

We entered the prayer space and sat down close to the others who had already begun to listen to the Imam give his message. As the members of their community explained, females and males enter at different sides of the prayer space and sit separately in the same room. This is for reasons of modesty and also of respect for the mosque as a “house of Allah.”

During this gathering, we heard various remarks about the Qur’an from the Imam, related to the peacemaking and mercy-seeking that is required of all Muslims. He even made reference to Jesus [Isa] at various points in his message.

My favorite part is the end of the Friday prayers, a congregational rakat [rak’ah].

It is a powerful moment to be welcomed into this prayer and to stand feet to feet with others. As we bent over, bowed, stood, and then appropriately moved our heads to the left and right, I was most certainly transformed and reminded of how important it is to embrace the cultures and religions of our neighbors without judgement.

After the prayers, we went downstairs for more discussion. The Alvernia students asked some really good questions and I was particularly impressed with their willingness to ask the difficult questions. The members of ISGVF encouraged the students to ask even the questions that they were uncomfortable to bring up. I think the ice was broken in many ways. Laughter prevailed. Understandings gained.

What a great experience.

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Josh grew up in Indiana and Iowa before completing a Masters of Divinity [M.Div.] at Princeton Theological Seminary [NJ]. He has worked in a variety of settings, including the Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Church of Christ (UCC) in Philadelphia, Hawai’i, Mexico, and Michigan. Currently, he serves as pastor of Love in Action United Church of Christ, a progressive, Christian, LGBTQIA+ affirming and interfaith community in Hatboro, a suburb of Philadelphia. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre/Speech from Northwestern College (IA). Josh has worked with youth and young adult programs for 25 years regionally, nationally, and in Latin America. He is also a trained actor and performs regularly with the dinner theatre company, Without a Cue Productions, LLC. He has developed theatre arts curriculum for use in worship, youth groups, education, and group-building. Josh is also committed to promoting religious pluralism and partnering with people of all faiths and those who identify as atheist or agnostic to build bridges of shared values and cooperation. He is honored to work with the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia as a Fellow and a Consultant. Focus areas include: University alternative spring break and summer programs that incorporate faith encounters and service-learning for students; workplace diversity programs that promote understanding in organizations, corporations, schools, and hospital settings. Josh also enjoys playing basketball, strumming on the guitar, traveling, learning language, or making strange and funny faces. He lives in Center City Philadelphia and thinks vegan cheesesteaks are amazingly good.

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