My Muslim friend Ali and my Christian commitment to his life of faith
How American hostility toward Muslims has shaped my pastoral vocation
During Sunday worship 13 years ago, my district minister invited me to the front to bless me in my first pastoral calling. I stood with her, looking at all the faces of church members and community friends, side by side, snug in the pews. She asked, “Will you seek to be faithful in prayer, in setting forth the scriptures, and in seeking the good of this congregation?” As I said yes I glanced around the room, my eyes meeting those of my friends—people who weren’t members of the church but had come together to support me, to affirm my calling.
With my yes I made a commitment to this whole gathering, church members and others. They embodied, for an hour, a mestizaje of lives from different traditions, to borrow a concept from mujerista theologians. That congregation was an amalgamated body, a hybrid of people rooted in various communities. For my identity as a minister, the line between the church and the world has been permeable from the beginning, a calling to a congregation of mixed constitution.
Among the gathered body that day was my friend Ali. Over the years he had visited our Mennonite community for Sunday worship and I had joined his Muslim community for Friday prayers. Our communal singing captivated him; their embodied reverence mesmerized me. Once I went with him to Eid al-Fitr, the service at the end of Ramadan where Muslims come together for their salat, their worshipful devotion. That year they gathered in the main arena at the state fairgrounds. We took off our shoes and added them to the endless lines along the walls. With his prayer rug tucked under his arm, Ali walked me to the chairs for non-Muslim guests before he weaved his way through men sitting cross-legged on their mats. I watched him roll out his rug, lift his hands to his ears, drop his arms to his side, then reach his arms to hold each other across his chest. He and the others stood in silence, waiting for the imam to lead the first takbir, the invitation to call upon God.