Managing Editor’s note: all Contributing Scholars begin writing by answering the following question as their first post: Why are you committed to building relationships with those from different religious or ethical traditions? Their answer to this question is below.
Every morning for fourteen months the call to prayer woke me before the sun had climbed over the horizon.
Every day, five times a day, the call to prayer rang out in Sirakoro where I was serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali, West Africa. At first it irritated me to be woken up so early, but the call to prayer quickly became a comfort to me as familiar as my host-father’s laugh, the taste of mangos, and the never-ending stream of Malian greetings. Woven into “good morning” and “how are you” are a multitude of blessings.
“May Allah increase the peace of the day” rolls off the tongue as easily as “see ya later.” Sirakoro is predominantly Muslim and there is also a large Christian population. Christians and Muslims alike bless each other daily. Blessings are not the only way that religion is woven into the fabric of daily life. Prayer was not reserved for the mosque, the church, or the privacy of one’s home. Amidst the hustle and bustle of children hauling water, donkey’s braying, chickens fighting, and men chatting over tea, my host-mother prayed on her front porch. Every day after lunch, I would excuse myself to pray. No one batted an eye. My Muslim host-family was supportive of my Unitarian Universalist prayer practice. Recently I attended Juma prayers in Boston. As we sat down on our mats, the call to prayer began. I had not heard that beautiful, familiar sound in over two years. Talking with the Muslim chaplain after service, she mentioned that she worries the call to prayer is too loud – that it will bother the neighbors. Her worry broke my heart. Trying to keep the call to prayer confined stood in stark contrast to it resounding through Sirakoro.
As a Unitarian Universalist, I am called to uphold both “the worth and dignity of every person” and “a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” Building interfaith community where everyone is free to practice their religious or ethical path is a fundamental tenant of my faith. As a person with Unitarian Universalist, Catholic, Pentecostal, Mormon, Jewish, and Muslim family, interfaith relationships are part of the fabric of my life. But it is the call to prayer that reminds me of how insufficient interfaith tolerance is without interfaith relationship. In the United States the First Amendment protects the right to freely exercise one’s religion. Yet, I fear that we have been practicing a “don’t ask don’t tell” religious freedom, making religion a divisive political issue or a topic too taboo for polite conversation. In Sirakoro I glimpsed the possibility of a different kind of interfaith living. I long for an interfaith community where we can each practice our religious or ethical path openly without fear or shame, where we support one another in our spiritual practices, where our religious and ethical identities are not hidden away because they are inflammatory but celebrated because they bring depth, meaning, and beauty to our lives.
Photo courtesy of the author.