As the Muslim population in the United States continues to grow, Islamic centers across the country have begun looking for extra prayer space in nearby schools and churches to accommodate their increasing memberships.Recently, an Islamic center in Northern Virginia found some rental space in a Jewish synagogue – an arrangement that could serve a role model for Muslim-Jewish relations in the Middle East.
Islamic Center needed room to grow
For some Muslims in Virginia, the Friday call to prayer is traditional but far from ordinary, because it comes from the building of the Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation.
Mohamed Maged, Imam of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, or ADAMS Center, says the unlikely arrangement was prompted by a serious shortage of worship space to accommodate the center's rapidly growing membership. Besides the extra room, Maged says, the move had other benefits.
"It is not only the place, but we exchanged podiums, speaking and addressing our community during our services and that is the beauty of this relationship."
From reservations to interfaith cooperation
Most of the Muslim congregation say they have no problem praying in a Jewish house of worship. Some of their recent comments include: "I think it was a great idea to have it in a church and in a synagogue." Another opinion is, "It is not a problem as long as we have love in our hearts and we all think of how to live together." And, "There was a little bit of surprise probably, maybe people were uncomfortable with the thought."
Rabbi Robert Nosanchuk, who leads the Reform congregation of about 500 families, says some of his members also had reservations.
"Certainly there were people who were concerned, who resisted the idea out of not being certain who it was that we were dealing with, but once explained it was not terribly difficult," Nosanchuck says.
Both religious leaders believe this sort of interfaith cooperation can be instrumental in overcoming religious prejudice.
Nosanchuck says, "When you invite someone who you don't know well into your home, that's the perfect opportunity to really come to a better understanding of who they are, some of the things you share, some of the things that are different. Certainly the importance of sacred holidays and observances cannot be underestimated, and those are things that draw Jews and Muslims together in our society."
Imam Maged says this Jewish congregation stood beside the Muslim community during the hard times of the 9/11 aftermath, so their cooperation is not new. He says the two communities have organized numerous joint activities. Maged describes what he calls a breakthrough event.
"We had a Holocaust survivor. She came to ADAMS Center. She (had been) saved by Muslims in Albania and she told us the most moving story. She had pictures of the family that had saved her family in the Holocaust era. She came and spoke about what that meant to them."
A role model for Muslim-Jewish relations
What started as a renter-landlord relationship between the Imam and the Rabbi has become much more. Rabbi Nosanchuk calls it a role model for Muslim-Jewish relations, not only in the U.S. but in the Middle East.
"We hope to bring some of this message to the Middle East together. We are planning a trip to travel there with some other clergy. We would like to enlist this as an opportunity to draw with our Israeli brothers in the Middle East along with folks from every neighboring country, and those living in the Palestinian territories, that compassion and understanding of others is possible," Nosanchuk says.
For his part, Imam Maged says that if Muslims and Jews can learn how to put their hands together as a human family, they can help put an end to bloodshed and violence, and in the process, rediscover the true essence of their faiths.