The opening of a chapter I wrote about the first year of Faith House for the recently released book Discovering the Spirit in the City, Edited by Andrew Walker and Aaron Kennedy (Continuum 2010)
Experience Your Neighbor's Faith: Faith House Manhattan
By Bowie Snodgrass
My husband, George, and I were rushing between errands on a Tuesday afternoon in Manhattan. Walking and talking and carrying heavy loads, we turned onto a broad empty street and became present to calm spaciousness. A Halal food cart at the corner had no person standing guard, but coming closer, we noticed a man on the sidewalk. We could only see his bent back. His knees and forehead touched a small blue carpet, he was prostrate in prayer, facing Mecca from Manhattan.
We slowed down and slipped by in silence, aware of prayer in the air and feeling blessed by his practice of faith. In the past, I might have felt awkward or concerned about intruding. Instead, I opened my soul for a minute to remember that “Glory be to God, the Most High” and that people were praying all over the city.
I remember a college professor writing down the Five Pillars of Islam on a blackboard during a Religious Studies class, telling us that one pillar was Salat, the prayers practiced five times a day by observant Muslims. But I never grasped the prayerfulness, the inherent value of religious veneration, of doing Salat until I was invited to try one myself at Faith House.
Our second year began with a Ramadan Iftar, the meal where Muslims break their daily sun-up-to-sun-down fast during the month of Ramadan (another Pillar of Islam). Mujadid, a Sufi dervish, invited everyone to perform Salat. Some watched, but almost fifty people – Mulims, Jews, Christians, agnostics and others – arranged themselves into five rows. Mujadid translated the words that would be chanted in Arabic into English and invited non-Muslims to participate in the body movements. You are welcome, he said, to pray to Jesus or Moses or simply be present to the moment.
That invitation to try Salat, to experience it with my body and offer prayers to God and Jesus alongside my Muslim friends, opened my heart. There was no attempt to convert me to Islam, but I was converted in that instant to the profound beauty and humility of Salat, of submitting before God with my forehead upon the ground, this faith practice of my neighbors.
There is urgency in Faith House’s mission to be: “an experiential inter-religious community that comes together to deepen our personal and communal journeys, share ritual life and devotional space, and foster a commitment to social justice and healing the world.” Samir Selmanovic, who founded Faith House, says we can’t wait for the 2–3 billion Christians and Muslims in the world to become secular to have world peace. Faith House calls us to “dig further into our texts, traditions, and practices to help us experience, understand and actually learn to need one another.”
TRYING ON TAGLINES
GOD IN SPACE
LENT: A CASE STUDY
OUT INTO THE CITY