As Muslims around the world observed Ramadan over the past month, one mosque in the suburbs of Washington found the holy month of fasting from sunrise to sundown could provide an opportunity for some interfaith understanding. The Islamic Center of Maryland hosted members of the local Jewish community for evening prayers and an Iftar dinner, the daily meal in which Muslims break their Ramadan fast. Then, they joined their guests for a Havdalah ceremony - to mark the end of the Jewish Sabbath. VOA's Saqib UI Islam was also there.
It's sunset in the town of Gaithersburg, Maryland, just north of Washington, about time for the Muslims living in this area to break their fast. Many have gathered in the Islamic Center of Maryland waiting for the Call to prayer.
But as they stand in lines to pray, there are many new faces here to pray with them, local Jews who have gathered here to break fast and pray with the Muslims.
"Every year, at Ramadan, our mosque opens their doors for Iftar," said Haytham Younis, the mosque's imam. "We invite guests, and we put a signboard out front inviting anyone who just wants to come in off the street."
On this day the Jews have been invited through an organization called the "Judaism Islamic Dialogue Society." Imam Younis and Rabbi Dan Spiro are members.
SPIRO: "It's just a wonderful way of exploring what it means to be a child of Abraham. And we are, after all, children of Abraham."
YOUNIS: "God, we believe, gave the law to Mohammed, just as he did to Moses. And it was a very similar law, for a nation of believers, so that they establish God's law on earth. So we have a lot in common."
Following the prayers, the Muslims joined the Jews for a Havdalah Service, a ritual which ends the Jewish Sabbath, of Shabbat.
"Shabbat isn't lasting a whole month, but it happens a day every single week," noted Hanna Spiro. "So it's this kind of regular, but spiritual, sacred holy time, and Havdala and the break-fast, the end of the fast is kind of marking that was our sacred, holy time.
In the conversation which followed, members of both communities talked about their experience with each other's faiths.
Andra Sufi says she learned to recite part of the Quran to take part in the Muslim Prayers, and has incorporated some of the teachings of Islam into her life.
"So I think that the coming together and sharing allows us the richness of what's going on in other faith traditions," said Sufi.
In many Muslim countries, Imam Younis says people of other faiths are not allowed to enter a mosque. But he says this concept does not reflect the true teachings of Islam.
"I mean, the prophet sala Allah alaih va salam (God be pleased with him) when a group of Christians came from Najiran, and it was time for them to pray, he invited them to make their prayer in the masjid of the prophet sala Allah alaih va salam (God be pleased with him) , and of course Allah subhann watala (God Almighty) throughout the Quran, you know (Arabic phrase) 'call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and the most beautiful of manners.' And so how is it that you can call people to Islam if you shut them out of your lives and you have nothing to do with them whatsoever?" asked Younis.
Imam Younis and Rabbi Spiro both believe Jews and Muslims have much in common. Both faiths, they say, are profoundly monotheistic and share many of the same core principles - including honesty, justice, mercy, generosity, respect for the sanctity of life, and commitment to scholarship.