For the first time, Washington National Cathedral hosted Friday Muslim prayers where speakers called for religious unity in the face of Muslim extremism.
The cathedral is the seat of the Episcopal Church in the capital and has hosted Jewish and Eastern Orthodox services in the past. I can find no mention of a Roman Catholic mass being celebrated there, although it’s entirely possible.
Many of their services are ecumenical. But you wonder about the irony inherent in holding a Muslim prayer service in a Christian cathedral that, if held in many parts of the Muslim world, would have resulted in riots and bloodshed.
From the Washington Post:
In a corner of Washington National Cathedral, several hundred Muslim worshipers and other invited guests gathered Friday afternoon for a first-ever recitation of weekly Muslim prayers at the iconic Christian sanctuary and to hear leaders of both faiths call for religious unity in the face of extremist violence and hate.
The Arabic call to prayer echoed among the vaulted stone arches and faded away, followed by an impassioned sermon from Ebrahim Rasool, a Muslim scholar who is South Africa’s ambassador to the United States. Rasool called on Muslims, Christians and others to come together and make “common cause” in the fight against extremists who appropriate Islam.
“We come to this cathedral with sensitivity and humility but keenly aware that it is not a time for platitudes, because mischief is threatening the world,” Rasool said. “The challenge for us today is to reconstitute a middle ground of good people . . . whose very existence threatens extremism.”
The event was closed to the public, and there was heavy security, with police checking every name and bag. Organizers from several area Muslim institutions said there had been concerns about security and threats after the event was publicized and that they and cathedral officials wanted to limit it to a small and selected group.
Nevertheless, the carefully scripted ceremony was marred once when one well-dressed, middle-age woman in the audience suddenly rose and began shouting that “America was founded on Christian principles. . . . Leave our church alone!” She was swiftly ushered out by security aides, and the service continued.
Numerous speakers, including cathedral officials and local Muslim leaders, echoed Rasool’s message about the urgent need for religious understanding and collaboration. Most made pointed references to the symbolism of the majestic Christian building, where rugs had been laid for prayer.
The Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the cathedral, spoke of Saint Benedict, who he said believed equally in the importance of prayer and hospitality. Marveling at the sounds of Arabic prayers, which he called “a beautiful sacred language in a beautiful sacred space,” Hall said he hoped the service would serve as the start of more efforts to work together for good.
Hate to break it to the Very Reverend Mr. Hall but Arabic is no more a “sacred language” than English. Even the Arabs don’t describe their language as “sacred,” although classical Arabic is considered the language of the Koran and is thus “sacred” in that sense. Maybe he was just being nice to his Arabic guests.
I criticize no one for having good intentions — unless those intentions end up getting people killed. The level of naivete it takes to believe that services like this do any good in a practical sense is breathtaking. You would have to bury your head in the ground to avoid the reality of what’s happening in the world to feel you’ve accomplished anything of value by allowing Muslim prayers at our national symbol of Christianity.
If they really want something like this to have meaning in the real world, why not hold an Episcopal service in a mosque — in Mecca? That would be a real “dog bites man” story.