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A Muslim Leap of Faith: Offering Interfaith Prayers For Newtown

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Muslims have been a part of the interfaith prayers for a very long time, but this time, in Newton, Conn., they took an incredible leap of faith.

Jason Graves, a young lad, recited the verses from Quran, and Imam Muadh Bhavnagarwala of the Al Hedaya Islamic Center added, "We ask God to grant those lost a special place in paradise and we ask their families to be granted the strength to endure the unendurable."

Praying for "a special place in paradise" for those who are not Muslims is an incredible leap of faith. The language this man chose is not the common language of Muslims, Christians and others who traditionally seek mercy and grace for their own lot, and exclude people of other faiths from their blessings, not because they don't want to, but because it is not in practice, so is the tragedy.

Incidentally, another note was floating on the facebook, asking one to pray for a special place in paradise (Jannat al Firdaus) for a senior Imam of Mecca who died today, and it is a part of the Muslim culture.

Imam Bhavnagarwala has set a new benchmark by saying those words and has rekindled the interfaith light, the inclusive light that was ignited by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) 14,00 years ago. Indeed, the first verse of Quran calls God as "God of the Universe" (rabbil Aalameen) and not God of Muslims.

Would Mahatma Gandhi go to heaven? Even though each member of the faith will thoughtfully acknowledge that he would, but the ones who live in cocoons, would say, not until he calls on Jesus as his savior, or recites the Shahadah (Muslim pledge).

However, God differs with the Cocooners, Quran 2:62:

"VERILY, those who have attained to faith [in this divine writ], as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabians -- all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds -- shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve."

The man continues, "It is in such times of almost unbearable loss that we seek comfort with our Creator and that artificial divisions of faith fall away to reveal a nation of mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, son and daughters, all united in a desire to bring healing and renewed hope."

Very few clergy would appreciate the phrase "artificial divisions," and yet, he boldly delivered it.
The Quran, Islam's revealed text, tells us that God's mercy and compassion are without limit and always available for those who ask. God says: "When my servants question you about Me, tell them that I am near. I answer the prayer of every person who calls on Me" (2:186) .

No Muslim has jumped on the man for seeking a special place in the paradise for non-Muslims, and I profusely thank God for lifting the spirit of Muslims, and opening their hearts and minds toward fellow beings.

"We believe that prayer is the most powerful force known to man and today's prayer vigil was an effort to provide strength and support to all in Newtown." Said Abdul-Majid Karim Hasan, another imam of the Newtown Islamic Center, told The Middletown Press.

Here is another inclusive prayer that I have cherished.

Allahum maghfirli wali walidaiyya wali ustadhi wali jam'il mu'minina, wal mu'minat wal muslimina wal muslimat -- "O Allah! Forgive me and my parents, and my teachers, and all the believers, the Muslim men and women."

Allahum maghfir lihayyina, wa mayyitinaa, wa shaahidina, wa ghaa-'ibina, wa sagheerina, wa kabeerina, wa dhakarrina wa untha -- "O Allah! Forgive our living and our dead, those who are with us and those who are absent, our young and our old, our men and our women."

Even though it is an inclusive prayer, it can be beefed up in the tradition of Quran, by adding "mankind" in the supplication, as it started out with the God of Universe in the first verse, and also ends addressing humanity in the last chapter. "I seek refuge in the sustainer of mankind (114:1).

On Dec. 15, we held interfaith prayers at FunAsia, in Richardson, Texas to honor the ones affected by the shooting in Newtown. In my segment of Pluralism Prayers, I challenged the gathering represented by people of most faiths to step beyond their boundaries, and embrace all humanity by verbalizing and including every one.

One of the bridge building activities is chorusing the religious greetings of different faiths, after all, the essence of greetings is to acknowledge the stranger, call on him or her and hope to acquaint. When we greet, we are wishing peace to each other, and to know each other, then whatever we produce from such meetings, or acts, would be a product soaked and drenched in peace.

They listened and many of them repeated the religious greetings of the major religions as a representation of all traditions.

Vigorous nods of approval were expressed to the sentiment in the following pluralism prayers. Even though it is difficult for the conservatives, most of them made the effort.

We are one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. As Americans collectively, we are represented by every race, nationality, ethnicity, language, culture and religion. We see God as one, none and many; male, female or genderless; existent and non-existent, being and non-being, nameless and with innumerable names. Indeed, we must preserve the pluralistic heritage of America and develop the courage to embrace all as fellow humans.

It was good to hear many Amens to the following supplication:

Dear causer of the Universe, in your name we want to create a cohesive and peaceful America with care, kindness and dignity to every one of the 312 million of us, as well as 7 billion of us in the world.

Dear God, guide us to talk, act and believe that we are all one family of humanity.

Dear God, as we undertake the mission of building cohesive societies, where no one has to live in apprehension or fear of the other, we are painfully aware of the ignorance, fear, mistrust and ill-will that divides us, help us open our hearts and minds towards receiving each other.

Dear God, guide us to become conflict mitigaters and good will nurturers.

Dear God, Protect our men and women in uniforms committed to our safety and well being.

Dear God, help us think, speak and act peace every moment of the day.

Dear God, guide us to value and practice the principles of liberty and justice for all of your creation, just as you treat us.

Dear God, give us your infinite wisdom and give us the courage to do the right thing, every moment of the day.

Help us learn to respect the otherness of other in each one of us, and help us accept the uniqueness you gave to each one of us.

May this trend catch on, and may we treat all of us, every one of us, as fellow beings, and fellow dwellers of the paradise without any discrimination. AMEN!