On September 25th, 2009, the first ever Jummah (Friday) Prayer service was held outside the US Capitol building in Washington, DC. The prayer event — called “Jummah Prayer: a Day of Islamic Unity” — drew about 3,000 Muslims from around the country. Hassan Abdullah, the head of the Dar-ul-Salaam mosque and one of the main organizers of the event, said that he got the idea for “Islam on Capitol Hill” after watching President Obama’s speech in Cairo this past June. Abdullah believed that the best way to counter continuing negative perceptions of Islam was to join together in a peaceful act that would show the spirituality and diversity of the Muslim communities. Although the event fell far short of its targeted size, the thousands who attended did follow the organizers’ hopes that the Day of Prayer would focus on spirituality and not politics or protest.
The day began with recitations of the Qur’an by Sheikh Muhammad Jibril and Sheikh Ahmed Dewidar, two prominent Egyptian reciters. To further highlight the message of the day, Sheikh Jibril recited the chapter in the Qur’an titled Ar-Rahmaan or “The Most Merciful.” The chapter, referred to as “The Bride of the Qur’an” for its haunting linguistic beauty, focuses on the infinite mercy of God seen through all His blessings. The Khutbah or sermon followed, delivered by Imam Muhammad Abdul Malik (also an organizer), emphasizing the role of Muslims in America, their duty to seek a common ground with non-Muslims and to give back to America because it is their nation as well. Imam Abdul Malik also made numerous references to the Prophet Muhammad by way of example of how Muslims should interact with non-Muslims in a peaceful and constructive manner.
For many who attended, this event was a step forward in recognizing Islam’s place in the United States. In a Washington Times article, Amina Haqq, an attendee at the event, said, “This is definitely historic. I am glad I lived long enough to see this. Islam is part of America. It is not a Judeo-Christian society; it is a Judeo-Christian-Muslim society.” To many Muslims, this event was more than a prayer, it represented a sense of belonging to the American landscape.
Did you attend the Friday Prayer at Capitol Hill? What was your experience? Should all religious groups be able to have similar events? Can prayer be a foundation for interfaith dialogue? Please share your comments.