Interfaith Dialogue Explores Overlap, Distinctions Between Muslims and Quakers

Interfaith Dialog 2016Five members of the Masjid Freehaven of Historic Lawnside New Jersey offered perspectives on Islam through an interfaith dialogue at First Day School on Feb. 7.

The well-attended program was inspired by growing confusion about the Muslim faith sparked by recent events and resulting Islamophobia, said Karriem Salaam, a member of the masjid who serves on the Haddonfield Friends School board and sends his children to the school.

Notable overlaps exist between Quakers and Muslims, said Shirley Cooper, a founding member of Masjid Freehaven.

“You are well aware of putting faith into action,” Cooper said, noting that in 1790, Quakers became the first organized group to petition the U.S. government to abolish slavery.

The faith underlying the masjid aims to rid former slaves and their descendants of the ravages left by slavery and oppressive Jim Crow policies, Cooper said.

“The descendants of former slaves were encouraged to clean themselves up and take responsibility for their own well being,” Cooper explained.

Imam Murad Abdul-Zahir, the emeritus imam of Masjid Freehaven, said that “masjid” is a more accurate term than the more commonly used “mosque,” which is a French adaptation, and he explained the core tenets of Islam:

  • The belief in one God that alone is worthy of worship
  • The duty to pray five times each day
  • The obligation to share money for the poor and needy as well as supporting the masjid
  • Fasting during the month of Ramadan to keep a clear and clean mind
  • Taking part in the Haaj to Mecca at least once in one’s lifetime, if at all possible.

The common thread that unites these components, Abdul-Zahir said, is the aim of improving the morals of humankind, treating others with decency and respect and seeking to heal wounds that exist.

“We should not be interacting with Christians from a position of hurt,” Abdul-Zahir said.

The panelists showed a film clip that focused on Imam W. Deen Muhammed, the son of the Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad, who renounced the black nationalism of his father’s movement and inspired Muslims in the U.S. to follow a more racially tolerant path.

In keeping with W. Deen Muhammed’s influence, 12 Lawnside families who initially gathered chiefly to fast and celebrate Ramadan together started the Masjid Freehaven, said Loretta Al-Uqdah, founding member of the masjid as well as a mother of HFS alums and grandmother of current students.

As the gatherings grew larger, Al-Uqdah said, the families that had met in homes and day care centers began making plans to open a masjid. They eventually raised enough money to buy a church that had once been a nursing home and refurbish it. The masjid, which opened in 1999, now has about 200 members.

Named for Lawnside’s former name, Freehaven, the masjid is intertwined with the Quaker community, Al-Uqdah said, noting that the municipality had once been a stop on the Underground Railroad that Quakers had played an integral role in purchasing.

Citing the “significant cross pollination” between area Muslims and Quakers, Salaam said an open dialog about faith was “necessary and appropriate.”

~ Sarah Greenblatt

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