On the afternoon of the first Sunday of Advent I was invited to visit the neighbors down the block. In between the morning Masses, a late afternoon wake and the evening Mass, I walked down the block and knocked on the door. I had been invited a few weeks prior and was eager to visit. Unfortunately, when I arrived I had knocked on the wrong door and was politely asked to use the front door and not the side door, as the front door was for men only and women used the side door. Confused, I dutifully obeyed.
When I entered I was politely greeted by about 25 men and their leader who was just finishing an address to the group. I had now made my second mistake without saying a word: I had left my shoes on. I noticed that everyone was barefoot and so I quickly took off my shoes. It was my first time in a mosque.
The group of men ranged from about 15 to 75 years old; they sat staring at me. The only other time I had experienced anything like it was when I sat Shiva with my Orthodox Jewish rabbi friends: as I walked in…silent stares! I spoke for about 15 minutes and gave a quick overview of the history and teachings of the Catholic faith. I invited questions; there was only one: “What will be the signs accompanying the Jesus-Messiah’s final return?” It fit right in with that Sunday’s Advent Gospel. The answer was simple: there will no sign; Jesus will come like a thief in the night, when we are least expecting. The word used is He will come like an “assault,” so that we must always be ready and be prepared that if He should come in the middle of the night, we must be ready.” To my surprise the ladies had been watching on closed-circuit television and following our conversation from another room behind the petition: that explained the gasp! They had not expected such an abrupt and startling answer; however true it might be. No warning!
After our gathering I observed their very reverential and sincere prayers, which take place six times each day. They bow toward Mecca and praise the name of God. After prayers the men had gone to great lengths to prepare a luncheon for me and so we sat around the table and talked faith. It was almost like a Muslim Knights of Columbus meeting.
I do not recall having been so warmly welcomed and treated as I was that day. They were sincerely and joyfully interested in my words, grateful I came to visit them; they smiled and laughed and each man wanted to individually come to me in a line to thank me for coming to visit them. They gave me gifts and a beautiful bouquet of flowers that I told them I would bring to the saint recognized and adored by both faiths: Miriam, or Mary as we call her. They asked if they could come visit our parishioners. I told them certainly we would look forward to that day after the New Year.
I put my shoes back on and collected my gifts. A young man of about 20 asked if he and his friend could carry my packages back to the church with me; I was very moved by their kindness. I told them it was raining, but they insisted. Along the way they asked if they could come some day and play basketball with some of the youth of the parish in our gym. I told them I would be sure to make that happen.
There are many branches on the Muslim tree as there are many branches in Christianity and Judaism. Their particular sect called Ahmadiyya lives by a motto that was emblazoned on their walls and worn on pins affixed to their jacket lapels: “Love for all, hatred for none.”
I like the new neighbors. I hope they stay around. If you see them, please say hello.
– Fr. Gerard Gordon