Visiting another religion’s place of worship and joining them for prayers can go a long way in fostering understanding among the religions. It can also help those interested in inter-faith dialogues to understand the practical similarities or differences in various religions and denominations. Thursday’s visit to the mosque took me down the memory lane to when I was a teacher and head of student life at a newly established school in Nairobi that mainly catered for Muslim students. I was young and had just graduated from college, thus, my experience with other religions was limited to the little I had observed in college. Interestingly, my first duty as the head of student life was to decide whether to allow students to pray during lunch hour.

My colleagues, like me, were Christians and had little knowledge about Islam, leave alone knowing anything about the daily ritual prayers. I convened a meeting with teachers and with the help of a local Muslim leader we set aside two rooms for prayers – for both girls and boys. This seemingly simple decision was to later change how we ran the school and consequently inspired so many Muslim parents to bring their kids to our school. I put teachers on a duty roster to supervise students during prayer time and accompany them to the mosque on Friday. For the two years I taught at that school, I learnt a great deal about Muslims and the importance of prayer in their lives.[1] Parents regularly invited me to their homes and I got to share meals with them. My take away from these experience is that we can coexist with other religions if we understood how they worship their God. Having a ‘beyond basic knowledge’, which comes from participating in their rituals goes a long way to foster mutual relationship.

On Thursday as I walked into the Mosque I wondered how many Christians have ever thought of visiting the mosque to attend prayers and possibly a sermon. Will they feel that they are in the presence of a different God? I don’t think so. Will they feel that their prayers will not be answered? I don’t think so. I want to believe that God accompanies His beloved to holy places and to wherever people call upon Him, hence we shouldn’t build walls around ourselves.  Visiting the mosque on Thursday clarified one important controversial thing: that there is a good reason why Muslims would prefer to wear Kanzu to the mosque and why they would probably recommend women to pray in a separate room. It is basically to maintain decency during prayer and avoid disruptions.

I asked the Imam on how he caters for his congregation given that they may have diverse backgrounds and come from different sects of Islam. He responded that in their community they are ONE. They do not relate along sectorial basis. This set me thinking on the unity of believers in a diaspora. How come this kind of heavenly thinking is lacking in many mosques especially in Muslim majority countries? I was interested to learn on the kind of sermons the Imam gives – whether they are anchored on any school of thought. My understanding is that a sermon is a powerful tool that changes and shapes how people think about issues. And here is where I think religious leaders can collaborate a lot. In times of crisis (like a terrorist attack), ministers and imams can use the sermon to pacify people and clarify misunderstandings.

Thursday’s visit was fruitful and I would like to do it again, perhaps stay for a sermon.

[1] Most of my Christian colleagues later got jobs at International Muslim schools. They were perhaps employed because they understood Islam by virtue of interacting with students.

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