“Acceptance and tolerance and forgiveness, those are life-altering lessons.”
— Jessica Lange **
I haven’t been celebrating Christmas my entire life. In fact, I’ve celebrated the holiday exactly two times; both with my best friend Katie. In all honesty, Christmas is now more about the movies, the food, and the presents than about the celebration of Jesus’ birthday. This is a fact many Christians are saddened to admit. Katie, though, still treasures the true meaning of Christmas, so when we chose to spend Christmas together by drinking hot cocoa, having a delicious dinner, and watching Donald Duck’s Christmas Favorites, Katie also asked me to go to church with her.
At first, I was mortified by the thought. My goodness, I’d be betraying my faith and God! After giving it some thought, I said yes. I figured that Christianity is a monotheistic religion just like Islam, and I’ve spent enough time with Katie to know that our beliefs are, really, almost identical. Most of all, I wanted to go and learn something new. So many people choose to stay ignorant about different faiths, and I wanted to look at how other people worship. I believe it is important to know this stuff, if only because it makes you think twice before judging someone by their faith. This is especially important to me because my faith continues to be unfairly judged, and I wouldn’t want to make anyone else feel like I have often felt after reading the comments section of an article discussing Muslims. Let’s just say that people are especially cruel when hiding behind the name Anonymous.
I had chosen to wear a purple sweater and jeans to wear to the Christmas service, but Katie quickly explained that jeans aren’t proper Church attire, so I swapped them out for a black skirt I had to borrow from Katie. The skirt, in all honesty, looked much better with the sweater, and if I was nervous about going to church for the first time, at least I felt comfortable in my oh, so stylish! outfit.
Before we entered, Katie told me to immediately let her know if I felt uncomfortable, which was incredibly sweet and reassuring to hear. I promised that I would. The outside of the church was very modern, and the only thing that gave away it being a place of worship was a large sign listing the times of the services that would be held that day. I was expecting a large cross to be perched on top of the building, but the only other thing besides the brick building on the lot was a playground and a parking lot. No cross. I let out a sigh of relief.
What surprised me the most was that the service was held in a gymnasium. At my questioning look, Katie explained to me that there probably wasn’t enough room in the chapel. The gymnasium was just like the one I had in my middle school. There was a large projector, and plastic chairs were lined up in a semi-circle. Still no large crosses! I was beginning to calm down.
The reason I feared seeing a large cross was because I had the fear that by being beside a cross, I was betraying my Muslim faith. While there are many, many similarities between Islam and Christianity, the cross symbolizes their differences. More than anything, it was a childhood fear of mine that being around a cross made you automatically become not Muslim. While I realize that thinking this way is ridiculous, because your beliefs come from your heart, I still felt hesitant and nervous.
We met up with some of Katie’s older relatives — a few very sweet women in their 90’s. The ladies were full of southern charm and gentility. Everyone was very kind to new faces, although I refrained from mentioning my Muslim faith. Our group sat down in the third row, and for the first part of the service I was observing my surroundings. It was so interesting to me to think that I was inside of a church. I thought about all of the times I met people who said, “Oh, I’ll be at Church on Sunday.” I would think, I wonder what they do there! Now, I feel like I’m in on the secret. I know what people do at church.
We sang Christmas carols, and I really enjoyed this part, because I was familiar with most of them from movies and TV shows. When there would be a line that obviously went against my Muslim beliefs, I wouldn’t sing it, and then would pick up again in the chorus. When Katie noticed me doing this, she went into a fit of muffled giggles, which got us a few stern looks from those sitting around us. Whoops.
After singing carols, there was a part where everyone had a piece of bread dipped in “wine” (I was told it was really grape juice). When it was my turn to take a piece, I hid behind a door. It’s not that there is anything wrong with dipping bread in juice, and I was so starving that I actually contemplated doing it, but I didn’t want to participate without knowing the meaning behind the ritual.
My favorite part out of the whole service was the candle lighting ceremony. Everyone stood in a circle with a candle, the lights were dimmed, and we were given a few moments in silence. The dark room was beautifully illuminated by the candle light, and it was a very fascinating sight.
After the service, I finished cooking the lamb at home, and we had a very pleasant dinner.
I was very hesitant to go to church, and feared that I betrayed God by attending a Christian service. However at the end of the day, I can only describe the experience as being incredibly pure. I felt at peace. I also realized that it doesn’t matter what house you worship at, because every religion is holy in it’s own way. I know that there are some Muslims who would judge me for attending a Christian service. I wish that I could share the experience with them. I also wish I could get more Christians to visit a mosque. If only we knew how the other worshiped, there would be less judgement and more understanding in the world. Worshiping, no matter what faith you belong to, is all about love. Love unites us all.
I hope you have a wonderful 2015, full of love and happiness, and not one drop of hate.