Washington National Cathedral, known for presidential funerals and other major spiritual services, will host a Muslim prayer service for the first time Friday.
The cathedral, part of the Episcopal Church, has long held high-profile interfaith events, and some mosques hold services in synagogues or churches if they need overflow space. But organizers said Monday that they are seeking to make a statement by having Muslim leaders come and hold their midday service in such a visible Christian house of worship.
“We want the world to see the Christian community is partnering with us and is supporting our religious freedom in the same way we are calling for religious freedom for all minorities in Muslim countries,” said Rizwan Jaka, a spokesman with the prominent ADAMS mosque in Sterling, Va., one of the co-sponsors of Friday’s service. “Let this be a lesson to the world.”
The service, which will begin around 12:20 and is for invited guests only, developed out of a relationship between the cathedral’s director of liturgy, the Rev. Gina Campbell, and the South African ambassador to the United States, Ebrahim Rasool, who is Muslim. The two worked together on a memorial service for Nelson Mandela, Jaka said.
“This is a dramatic moment in the world and in Muslim-Christian relations,” Rasool said in a prepared statement. “This needs to be a world in which all are free to believe and practice and in which we avoid bigotry, Islamaphobia, racism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Christianity and to embrace our humanity and to embrace faith.”
Campbell said she and Rasool connected over the sensitive project of planning the Mandela service. “There was a lot of tension in trying to get that to a manageable size and [to be] a beautiful thing, with all the competing interests,” she said Monday.
“He got the cathedral — he understands what it represents in the United States; he made the connection to the power of a cathedral to shape relationships, community, conversation, to do deep, important things,” she said.
The night before the Mandela service, she said, the two stood in the cathedral’s soaring nave, looking down the long aisles. It was like being in a mosque, Rasool said. How so? she asked. In ancient mosques, he told her, long troughs of water in long aisles like the cathedral’s worked to carry the acoustics.
“I was struck by the idea that two people could be standing in the same place but see their own prayers,” she said.
They stayed in touch, discussing topics such as the desire to elevate moderate religious voices. She eventually asked him what it would take for him to pray there. They walked through the cathedral and considered different spots and different services. Rasool settled on the jummah prayer, the midday Friday prayer, which includes a short sermon. Observant Muslims pray five times a day.
While many other non-Muslim places of worship around the country host Muslim services, Campbell said the cathedral is different.
“This is the place where we bury our presidents, where we bury our national heroes,” she said.
Efforts to reach Rasool on Monday were not successful.
About 100 people will be at the service, which will be spoken and chanted without music, Campbell said. Muslim leaders will bring prayer carpets.
The event is being co-sponsored by the cathedral, Rasool and several Muslim spiritual and advocacy groups: ADAMS — whose full name is the All Dulles Area Muslim Society — the Council on American Islamic Relations, the Islamic Society of North America, Muslim Public Affairs Council and Masjid Muhammad mosque in Northwest Washington.
Rasool will deliver the khutbah, or sermon, at the service, which will be held in a part of the massive cathedral “with arches and limited iconography, almost mosque-like,” a statement from the cathedral said.
Jaka noted that three of ADAMS’s 22 weekly services are held at two synagogues and a church. ADAMS is hosting a fundraiser for Christian religious freedom in Pakistan, and it regularly hosts non-Muslim speakers.
“Deep relationships come out of prayer,” Campbell said in the statement. “Different connections come out of being in prayer — beyond the political or academic.”
The service will be streamed live at the Cathedral’s Web site.