Before I came to Rome, I thought I had a strong understanding of the prayer life of Muslims. I grew up with Muslim friends and have met many Muslims in my personal life as well as in my work life. However, I had never participated in Muslim prayer. I had the special opportunity at The Lay Centre to participate in afternoon prayers, which has now given me a deeper understanding and respect for daily prayers in Islam. The group of Muslims had come to Rome for five days to learn more about Catholicism and to have a greater understanding of interreligious dialogue by gaining a first-hand experience of meeting with Catholics and traveling to historical and religious sites in Rome. The students from Cambridge Muslim College were a mixture of men and women. During their stay at The Lay Centre, I found myself mostly talking with and getting to know many of the women in their group. I was pleasantly surprised by the openness of these women and their willingness to teach me about the prayers and the reason why they pray five times a day. I was struck by their devotion and reverence to God and how they talked about the importance of faith and devotion in their life.
I first found myself wanting to pray with these Muslims because I could hear them praying near my door in my hallway. I asked the women, who were seated behind the men in the hallway, if I could pray with them, and they joyfully said yes and all moved over to give me space. I did not have a prayer mat so a woman named Ashrem gave me her own mat. This to me was a sign of pure generosity. She then moved over to her friend’s mat to pray. Although all of the daily prayers are said in Arabic, and I have no knowledge of the language, I prayed silently and participated in their body movements. After the prayer was over I felt a sense of kinship with these women. We all believed in one God, a God who is merciful and loving.
Praying together led to discussions between myself and seven of the women in the group. We discussed many topics from our Abrahamic tradition to our love of music, food, and the stress of academic life. Although we were from two different religions our common heritage in faith and praying to God became the keystone in our conversations. Prayer is a way in which we talk with God as well as pray to God. Different religions have many forms of prayer, and I experienced that firsthand with these students. We had different ways of praying, but our intentions were the same in that we all wanted to praise and thank God. As a Catholic woman, I have chosen a life dedicated to God in my faith life and in my academic career, and these women have also done the same. Our cultures may be different, but our respect, admiration, and love of God is something that unifies us.
During the time I spent with these Muslim women I learned how important interfaith dialogue is on an international level. No matter where you are in the world or what faith you represent, dialogue between faiths in very important. It is when we dialogue with one another about faith that we then build bridges and can continue our journey together in faith.