Secular Chaplain Prays with Muslims

Muslim orphan praying during Ramadan, Thailand

Way way back in Evangelical college days, I was invited to pray with a small circle of Muslim students from Saudi Arabia (their government liked the “protective environment” and restrictions at our conservative school).

Wahleed and I had become friends (over foosball in the student union) and he asked if I wanted to join them for prayer in an empty classroom on campus.  It was a little awkward, but I was already becoming more curious about faith than certain about faith.  They put their heads to the floor while I sat and said a silent prayer to the Somebody Somewhere.  I think I went for two reasons:  my deepening interest in the study of World Religions, and, my friendship with Wahleed.

Teaching World Wisdom over the years, primarily in churches, I always thought back to that early experience of prayer with those guys.  I would tell my classes–and I still do sometimes–how important it is to know the People of this or that faith, before making judgments.  This is, of course, a major lesson lost in many of the conflicts we see every day in our world.

Which brings me to a dream.  Last night I dreamt I was in a room at a school–maybe a college–and I was talking and laughing with a group of Muslim guys.  A basketball game was going on in the gym and I walked in with the men.  It was half-time and we walked right out to half-court and knelt down to say prayers.  I was fully aware the entire time of the irony:  a secular guy “praying” with these Muslim men.  I don’t think there was anything but stunned silence in the arena.  Then we went back to the room with a sense of joy.  I stood watching over–I suppose–while the guys bowed for more prayer and then they were all sleeping, curled up safe on the floor.  I remember feeling protective of them, and proud to be standing (and kneeling) with them, as a nonbeliever, in the face of fear and misunderstanding.

I went out in the hallway where I told a woman I knew that we had prayed on the basketball court. She was very happy with a big smile, until I told her they were Muslim prayers.  Her smile turned to a frown and she walked away.

That was pretty much my dream.

I find it intriguing that as a secular who is a strong advocate of the Separation of Religion and State, and a strong critic of Prayer itself, I had this dream.  On the other hand, I’ve been reading lately of so many coaches and players who flaunt their Christian prayers on the fields and courts, parading their piety in public.  Then I read so much of the growing irrational fears people have of Muslims that, in many ways, resemble the ignorant fears of Freethinkers.  And I’m always inspired to hear of people of one faith standing in solidarity with people of another faith, or people with No Faith standing beside the faithful.

Maybe the “spirit” of my dream needs to be seen in action in more places, prayer or not.



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