Reflections on a woman-led Eid al-Adha prayer service

When I entered the space to nudge us forward to the rest of the service I was met with faces, bright faces. Faces full of hope, anticipation and expectation.
Come, come, whoever you are.
Wonderer, worshipper, lover of leaving
It doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow
a thousand times
Come, yet again, come, come.

Rumi

Highly judgmental communities, khutbahs filled with images of disapproval, damnation and eternal punishment, ostentatious displays of “piety” that turn people away rather than encourage them to learn more about their religion, the excision of women from the community through the use of barriers, cliquing along racial and linguistic lines which often exclude the American Muslim by default, the demands of blind adherence and disparaging attitudes toward independent thought: these are some of the things that have made outcasts of a large number of Muslims.

There are many people who, for these and countless other reasons, are searching for the company of others who will accept them as they are and with whom they can engage in open discussions about their faith and issues that affect their faith. Muslims for Progressive Values is an organization that tries to foster inclusive communities. My experience with MPV has helped me to see that our local chapter in Washington DC needs to move beyond existing as a social network and to create a sacred space where we could meet and worship together.

The logical catalyst would be to celebrate Eid al Adha together. I contacted Pamela Taylor and asked if she’d lead the prayer and/or help me to organize it which was met with a resounding “Yes!” Then we set about looking for space. Several places were considered but the space offered at All Souls Church Unitarian was ideal. It was large, open, free of religiously oriented images and the community actively welcomed us.

In addition to the Eid al Adha prayer service Pamela Taylor offered a workshop at a community room in a local apartment building. This was lightly attended but we plan on having a workshop again. We will have to promote it better so that people are better aware that it is being offered.

In two weeks we managed to get the word out. Anticipation and excitement laced every email exchange as people sent in their RSVP’s, questions about the event and offers to help with putting on the event. The morning of the event arrived and things moved quickly. Those who had assigned tasks arrived early and we all had to wait for the door to be open exactly at 10am. Once in we all hastened to set up the prayer area, the check in table, the snack table; all the while we were chattering excitedly. Not a single face was without a smile.

Pamela and her girls led the nascent community in chanting the takbirat Eid. When I entered the space to nudge us forward to the rest of the service I was met with faces, bright faces. Faces full of hope, anticipation and expectation. Imam Daayiee welcomed us all in. Tynan called in the rest of the service with the adhan. Ok, not required for the Eid prayer, but we got a bonus by hearing Ty delivery it.

Pamela gave a great khutbah and it was clear to me that people were engaged in what she was saying. She spoke about Miryam (Mary) and about Hajjar and two paths of spirituality. You can read more about it here.

We stood to pray, behind Pamela, and people quietly chose a place to stand. Men stood by men, women stood by women and some men stood by women – wherever they were comfortable. The prayer is so short but, oh, so sweet. In two shakes of a lamb’s tail we were done.

Imam Daayiee made an announcement which I hope will be reconfirmed very soon with some specific details. We intend to create a sacred space in order to continue meeting to worship together.

We ended the prayer service with fellowship and snacking on the treats that people brought. People hugged, smiled, laughed and connected with each other. The atmosphere was pure joy.

I was, and am still, so excited by the event. There were Shi’a and Sunni and Sufi. There were heterosexuals, homosexuals and transsexuals. There were Christians, Jews and Baha’is. There were young people and old, immigrants and natives and people of every shade. There were people from so many different walks of life that it made the prayer service truly “inclusive”.

It is clear that many will not understand or fully appreciate the healing power of inclusion. Many will never learn how to truly love their sister or brother no matter what differences there may be. But, as one who attended, a Christian minister, said “There are two things that we can be certain of in this life: God’s Love and change”. To that I say AMEN!

Fatima Thompson is Chair of Muslims for Progressive Values – DC Chapter. Her passions include activism, storytelling, inter / intra – faith dialog, religious education and outreach.

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