Where No One is Different

Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me. Mark 9:37

My friend invited me for dinner. A prayer would be said before the meal and guests like me were reassured we wouldn’t have to join, but were welcome to gather with our hosts in praising . . . Allah.

A few years back, I was a non-Muslim invited to gather at Fresno’s Islamic Cultural Center to enjoy a meal and share with neighbors during Ramadan.

Ramadan represents the holiest time of year for Muslims. Among the Ramadan obligations is daily fasting. From sunrise to sunset, a person does nothing (including eating or drinking) that represents pleasure. The day’s final meal takes on significance. On every day the devout Muslim prays on five separate occasions. But during this time of celebration and sacrifice, the prayer before the dinner (the Maghrib or sunset prayer) is likely more keenly felt . . . if only because of a growling stomach!

I don’t understand much of this. Raised in a 1950s American suburb, I wasn’t aware of any Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists. The oddest religious expressions came from Roman Catholic classmates or the very few Jehovah’s Witnesses I knew. Along with other elementary school students, I remember being jealous of a kid who didn’t stand or say the Pledge of Allegiance.

“Why?” we asked. Continue reading →

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