A call to Muslim prayer rang Friday through the cavernous Washington National Cathedral for the first time in the religious landmark’s century-old history.
The call for Jumu’ah was both a reminder for D.C. area Muslims to put aside their daily business for an hour, but it was also a major step toward uniting American-Muslims and Christians in an effort to combat religious extremism and stereotypes.
Director of the District office of the Muslim Public Affairs Council Br. Haris Tarin said those in attendance should remind anyone curious about the day’s event that “there is nothing more Christian, nothing more Muslim, nothing more American than praying together.”
The Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the cathedral, said one of the thoughts behind the prayer event was that “if we could inspire those of us who are not extremists to find a way to be together … we could begin to build something that will bless us, bless our children, bless all the people on the earth.”
The Friday prayer service was held at noon in the northern precept of the cathedral, beneath large stained glass windows etched with the names and faces of Christian saints. Several ornate carpets had been arranged on the floor where normally wooden pews face the main altar.
Sr. Roula Allouch, chairwoman of the Council on Islamic-American Relations national board, flew in from Cincinnati for the prayer service.
“I keep looking around,” the 34-year-old said, gazing up at the stone arches and windows, a blue and white scarf wrapped around her head. “As a member of the American-Muslim community, I’ve watched a lot of events take place in my lifetime. This signifies a strengthening in community relations.”
Men and women shed their coats and shoes along the wall and took their seats on the carpet. Some took pictures with their phones.
“We here at the cathedral have embraced a steep challenge: to grow in our identity as a house [of worship] for people,” said Rev. Canon Gina Gilland Campbell, canon precentor for the cathedral. “This prayer marks an historic moment, this prayer symbolizes a grand hope for our community. As we get to know each other … more bridges are built … and there’s less room for hate and prejudice to come between us.”
The beginning of the prayer service was interrupted by a female protestor shouting about “Christian principles,” but South African Ambassador to the U.S. His Excellence Ebrahim Rasool said the outburst was only one example of extremism shown in the lead-up to the prayer service — and there’s been many other instances around the world of extremism from both Christians and Muslims.
“Extremism is never the anecdote to extremism,” Mr. Rasool said. “The middle ground is always on the defensive. I think for the firs time it has flexed its muscle. This means our message at least is getting through. This bodes well for the power of the middle ground.”