Last Friday I had lunch with my dear friend and mentor Jan Swanson at Ummat’s (next to the Masjid of al Islam in East Lake) and, as I always do with her, had a delightful time and uplifting time. The restaurant has recently been renovated by the Food Channel and will be featured in an upcoming show: the renovation was a spectacular success.
After lunch Jan and I went next door to the Masjid to attend Jumuah, which I always find enriching both culturally and religiously. Imaam Sulaimaan Hamed’s kutbahs are always unrestrained and topical, and this week he delivered a blistering attack on the kidnapping of 270+ girls in Nigeria and on the government response. Among other points he made in his usual emphatic and decisive style are that marrying a woman without her consent and denying a girl education are completely un-Islamic, and that causing harm to others in the hope of salvation is awful and wrong and does not have anything to do with Islam. Few in the US would argue with him on these points on humanitarian grounds, but they are often misunderstood in US confusion of the faith of Islam with cultural issues. It is important that caring people help wonderful men like Imam Sulaimaan correct this misperception – though after over a decade of speaking up loudly in the public square and being largely ignored by the public and the media they have understandably grown tired.
After Jumuah I drove a short distance to the Masjid al Mu’minun which serves lunch after Jumuah. Having eaten lunch earlier I treated myself to a bean pie – a treat that I have never encountered other than in this culture! – and ate it over conversation with friends and strangers. Imam Furqan Muhammad invited me to attend a wedding that he would be officiating , and I was delighted and honored to do so.
The service was clean and simple, its spirit was of love, and it was a truly beautiful occasion. Furqan spoke in total for maybe twenty minutes and I want to capture some of the things he said, for I found them especially uplifting.
- He told the husband and wife that when married they would cease to be individuals, but rather together they would become whole, that they would become one human spirit. And he stated that there is no black or white spirit, no Christian or Muslim or Jewish or Hindu spirit, just a human spirit;
- He spent some time emphasizing the importance of trust in marriage and that this trust must be founded on each partner fearlessly telling each other the truth; that if ever either of them felt the need to tell the other a lie or hide the truth, their marriage was already on the decline;
- At quite a late stage in the service he observed that he had not yet mentioned love, and expanded on the point. He said that love could often be a mask and that our overriding obligation is to love Allah. He pointed out that everything, everyone, our very life and the marriage itself, is a gift from Allah. He observed that we find it easy to fall in love with the gift and not the giver, and emphasized the importance of remembering this and of loving the giver behind the gift in marriage as in everything else. Amplifying the point he said that only so long as the parties to the marriage contract remember to love Allah and to remain true to their faith will they continue to deserve and have the respect and love of the other;
- He talked about the importance of a contract of marriage in Islam, which the parties put in place and which lays out the expectations, responsibilities and commitments to which they agreed;
- Before inviting the parties to exchange their vows, he observed that vows require witnesses, and talked of the importance of vows: he mentioned the oft-quoted, “If you don’t stand for something you fall for anything.” The vows were simple and symmetrical: a commitment by each party to marry the other in accordance with Islamic Law and to remain faithful. As a symbol of the vows rings were exchanged, “round; like the universe, no one knows its beginning or end.”
I hung around the masjid for a while after the service and was glad the opportunity to thank both the bride and the groom for allowing me to attend presented itself. On my way out I went over to Furqan who was chatting to a congregant in the parking lot. He joked that having attended a Muslim wedding my life was complete, and in response I laughed that I could die happy. Our humor was sincere and reflected true happiness, but our words hid a deep truth for me: the hospitality of this community both at Masjid al-Islam, but even more at Masjid al Mu’minun is extraordinarily beautiful and has become a very important part of my life. I remain Buddhist, for that practice and philosophy resonates with me in a way no other does, but in a strange and deep way that I do not understand and cannot articulate, I feel a sense of belonging and of coming home when I am with this beautiful, loving, and generous community. I feel it standing shoulder to shoulder and praying together; I feel it during our social time eating together after Jumuah; and I feel it when my heart needs it during ordinary days at work or at home. Alhamdulillah!
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