Seen as one of the bastions of the United States political system, the Washington National Cathedral is one of the most iconic and historically significant sites in the United States. Every US president has been inaugurated, and later buried from the famous building. But last Friday, the cathedral marked another significant milestone, with the hosting of the first ever Jumuah prayers to take place within its walls.
The Washington Cathedral has conducted several groundbreaking events over the years, most recently a memorial service for the late South African president, Nelson Mandela. The service was held in the form of a massive inter-faith gathering, bringing together religious leaders from all facets of society.
The South African link continued on Friday, when former Western Cape Premier and current SA Ambassador to the US, Ebrahim Rasool, conducted a well-versed sermon on the topic of ‘Building the middle ground, defeating the extremes”. This came in light of the emergence of the radical Islamic State (IS) group, which has brought about a renewed sense of Islamaphobia amongst Western society.
With this in mind, Rasool described it as the perfect time to conduct such a landmark event. The prayers were specifically aimed at fostering the relationship between Muslims and Christians the world over. It brought together several mosques and Muslim organizations from within the broader Washington area, for a unified service.
“All of us came together, and we worked with the cathedral. Alghamdullilah, this resulted in a really successful Jumuah within the Washington Cathedral itself,” he told VOC Drivetime.
Also in attendance were members of the Jewish and Christian leadership in the US, as well as several government and US senate officials. The story made front page news in several US papers, most notably the Washington Post.
“The response has been overwhelmingly positive not only in the U.S, but across the world,” he said.
The event was however overshadowed by an unsavory incident in which a protestor disrupted proceedings for roughly a minute. The woman, a devout Christian, stood up during the sermon shouting for the Muslims in attendance to “leave the Churches alone”. Rasool was critical of the incident, noting that the woman had “deceived” her way into the cathedral. Furthermore, he accused the protester of operating in the same disruptive manner that Muslim extremists were accused of doing.
According to him, the event would also bring some form of relief to Muslims in Canada, still reeling from an incident in which a gunman, reported to be Muslim, opened fire in the Canadian parliament. The incident led to several racist attacks directed at members of the Islamic faith.
“I think this has had the effect of making a very clear and concise statement that what is done in the name of Islam is not accepted by the majority of Muslims,” he stressed.
Rasool expressed hope that the decision of the cathedrals leaders to open up their church for Muslims to pray in would set a precedent for inter-faith gestures of a similar nature.
“It is in multiple messages of this nature, that we were trying to recreate a relationship between different faiths across the world,” he said. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)