Muslims in the Washington, DC, area are renting space for Friday prayers from– among other places– synagogues.
“We say our prayers, and a few hours later they meet for Sabbath and they say their prayers,” said Rizwan Jaka, a leader at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) mosque in Sterling [Virginia], which added services at two synagogues last year. “People may think it’s strange or odd, but we are simply grateful for the space.”
The extra room will prove crucial this weekend with the beginning of Ramadan — a month of fasting that often draws hundreds to mosques in addition to regular members. Anticipating the throngs, many mosques have hired off-duty police and rallied volunteers to handle the traffic.
“Just like you have Easter Christians, Hanukkah Jews, we have what we call Ramadan Muslims. They just come out of the woodwork on the holy days,” said Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, outreach director at the Dar Al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church.
As [Muslims] looked for a place to expand in Reston, members of Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation learned of their plight. Although some in the congregation had reservations about leasing space for Islamic services, longtime members recalled that a Catholic church opened its doors to them years before they had built their synagogue. Their rabbi weighed in with biblical support.
“The prophet Isaiah said our houses would be houses of prayer for all people,” said Rabbi Robert Nosanchuk. “Now, I don’t know if Isaiah could have imagined us hosting Ramadan in the synagogue, but the basic idea is there.”
It turned out to be relatively easy. Their new Muslims friends didn’t need much: wide-open space, carpet to cushion the floor and a place for their shoes. The synagogue’s social hall suited them perfectly.
The arrangement has led to the unexpected benefit of cultural exchange. There have been pulpit swaps, with the imam and rabbi preaching to each other’s congregation and interfaith visits as well.
Not such a bad thing, is it? I don’t know if this would be possible in other parts of the world. But I’m pleased to live in a country where it is.