I WAS QUITE ANXIOUS as I walked from my car to the mosque. I had no personal desire to be there, save that it was a mandatory assignment for my seminary class.
Growing up in Maryland, the events of 9/11 are still vividly burned into my memory. I remember friends being pulled right out of class as their parents rushed out of their government jobs to collect loved ones. I also remember the local mosque — with its gleaming domes covered in gold — wrapped afterward with a banner that read, "Allah is love".
Islam to me was a foreign religion, one that belonged to the Middle East and was marked by radical acts of violence in the media.
And my initial observations of the Muslim worship service seemed to support this foreign-ness. There was the Arabic script on the wall. There were the men who worshipped in the front of the room while the women were designated to a separate space in the back.
Then there was the fact that this was all happening in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday! There was no "Sunday best" attire, because many had come straight from school or work, and were headed right back to their respective duties after worship. I was humbled by the idea that Muslims were willing to give up jobs and careers if their supervisors did not allow them to attend the Friday midday service.
But perhaps the greatest point of difference was how everyone moved with purpose and unity. What seemed at first like a random jumble of people sitting on the ground, quickly turned into distinct lines of Muslims standing shoulder-to-shoulder at prayer time. A narrow carpet was laid out for those who were unable to fit on the main floor, and it was quickly filled, starting from one end to the other.
I couldn't help but think about the Sunday services I had been to, where we attempt to keep buffers and gaps between us and the person we're sitting next to.
What does it take to be willing to stand or sit shoulder-to-shoulder with our brothers and sisters of the same faith? What differences would we have to overlook? What disagreements and emotions would we set aside in this moment of coming before God as people of faith?
Closeness and distance have meaning. It's why couples debate whether they can pull off the long distance relationship. It's why sharing the same space as your coworkers is different from people all Skype-ing in. It's why a tense moment can be mitigated with a hug or a hand on someone's back.
As you read this issue, may you see how distance matters, and all the ways that God continues to draw near to us.