By Matthew Doeing
This past weekend, a group of Lay Centre residents made their way to the Great Mosque of Rome, located just north of the city centre, to learn more about European Islamic thought and practice. The mosque is largest in Europe and home to the Italian Islamic Cultural Centre.
A local member of the mosque served as a guide and told Lay Centre residents that the Great Mosque’s overall design took inspiration from the architecture of other notable mosques in Europe. He said the structure was meant to conjure up imagery of a life-giving oasis. The palm tree-like colonnades and the central eight-pointed star fountain evoked a paradisiacal setting.
The interior was even more resplendent. Ample natural light cascaded through the windows at the top of the large domed ceiling, illuminating intricately designed tiles and Quranic verses in Arabic script that ran the length of the interior walls.
One such verse was placed above the mihrab, a small alcove at the front of the prayer space that denotes the direction of Mecca. It reads as follows: “Though all they were ordered to do was worship God alone, sincerely devoting their religion to Him as people of true faith, keep up the prayer, and pay the prescribed alms, for that is the true religion.”
Our trip also provided an opportunity for our multi-faith group to discuss and ask questions that everyday circumstances do not always allow.
Coincidentally, Pope Francis made it a point to promote peaceful relationships and dialogue between Muslims and Christians during his recent apostolic journey to Africa. Addressing an interfaith gathering in Nairobi, Kenya, he said:
“Ecumenical and interreligious dialogue is not a luxury. It is not something extra or optional, but essential, something which our world, wounded by conflict and division, increasingly needs. … In democratic and pluralistic societies like Kenya, cooperation between religious leaders and communities becomes an important service to the common good. In this light, and in an increasingly interdependent world, we see ever more clearly the need for interreligious understanding, friendship and collaboration in defending the God-given dignity of individuals and peoples, and their right to live in freedom and happiness.”
Pope Francis also traveled to a mosque Bangui, Central African Republic, where he met with Chief Imam Tidiani Moussa Naibi. Addressing communities that have experienced much violence along religious fault-lines, the pope pointed out that “Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters” while Imam Naibi gave his thanks and commented that the pope’s visit was a “symbol, which we could all understand.”
The Lay Centre gives us the opportunity to learn from one another at the interpersonal level. Meanwhile, in our extended communities or workplaces, how can we go about having a “dialogue” with others? What more can I do to learn from, work with and provide for others?
(Photos by Elyse Brazel and Scott Alexander)