What do Muslims give as gifts to Catholic Priests? An interfaith experience

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Many of our Redemptorist communities on the East Coast of the United States are multicultural, multilingual, and multireligious.

Geographically, in just a few walking minutes from our Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Brooklyn (OLPH), we have a large Muslim population with several mosques and many Muslim-specialized stores and services.

Recently, in our Redemptorists facilities, OLPH participated with other organizations and faith-based institutions in a hearing testing program for Children sponsored by Langone Hospital.  Because of this joint effort, we got to know a leader of the Muslim community, Bibi Esahack, the executive director of the Bay Ridge Community Development Center.  This center was once an Episcopalian Church, now transformed into a social center with a Muslim prayer facility.

At Bibi’s invitation, two of our Fathers, Michael Cunningham, and Manny Rodríguez, visited this Muslim Development Center.  It was a Saturday morning when they operated their accustomed food kitchen, which serves over 400 needy persons weekly.  It was very impressive to see so many young persons of different ethnic origins and religions participating and giving their time to serve in this program.

The experience led us to examine and study more closely the similarities between the Muslim Religion and our Catholic faith.

  • Monotheism: Catholics and Muslims believe in one God, the creator and sustainer of the universe.  Catholics and Muslims are “Religions of the Book” along with our Jewish brothers and sisters.
  • Prophets: Both faiths recognize the importance of prophets as messengers of God. Muslims believe in many prophets, including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, while Catholics recognize the prophets of the Old Testament and Jesus as the ultimate prophet.
  • Respect for Mary: While Muslims do not believe that Mary was the mother of God, they hold her in high regard as the mother of Jesus. Of course, Catholics have a solid devotion to Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus.
  • Prayer: Both faiths emphasize the importance of prayer in connecting with God. Muslims pray five times a day, while Catholics have various forms of prayer and worship.
  • Charity: Both faiths emphasize the importance of giving to those in need. Muslims practice giving a portion of their wealth to charity, while Catholics have a strong tradition of charitable works and social justice.
  • Sacred texts: Both faiths have sacred texts that guide their beliefs and practices. Muslims have the Quran, while Catholics have the Bible.

Visiting the Muslim community during the Lenten time called our attention to the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, also spelled Ramadhan or Ramazan.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, and it is observed by Muslims worldwide as a time of fasting, prayer, reflection, and spiritual renewal.

During Ramadan, Muslims abstain from food, drink, and other physical needs from dawn until sunset. The fast is broken each day at sunset with a meal called iftar. In addition to fasting, Muslims are encouraged to engage in acts of charity, kindness, and self-reflection and to spend time reading the Quran.

Ramadan is also a time for communal worship and gatherings, such as nightly prayers called Taraweeh. The month culminates with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the fast and is celebrated with prayers, feasting, and gift-giving.

Ramadan is considered a time of spiritual purification and is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, which are the foundation of the Muslim faith. It is a time of heightened devotion and a reminder of the importance of faith, community, and compassion.

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has expressed respect and admiration for the Muslim faith and its followers. Furthermore, he has emphasized the importance of interfaith dialogue and understanding and has reached out to Muslim community leaders to promote peaceful coexistence and mutual respect.

In 2014, Pope Francis addressed the leaders of the Islamic community in the Central African Republic, where he spoke about the need for religious leaders to work together to promote peace and overcome prejudice and hatred. He has also met with Muslim leaders in various countries, including Turkey, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates. In addition, he has emphasized the need for Christians and Muslims to work together to combat poverty, violence, and extremism.

Undoubtedly, Pope Francis has shown a deep respect for the Muslim faith and its followers while emphasizing the need for dialogue, understanding, and cooperation between people of different religions.

To return to the original question of this article:

What do Muslims give as gifts to Catholic Priests?  After our visit and having been received with much joy and openness, this Muslim community gave each of us beautiful prayer mats (see photo above).

Whether on our knees in the Chapel or on gifted prayer mats, we all, Muslims and Catholics, pray to our common Father in Heaven, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Fr. Manny Rodriguez, C.Ss.R.

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