The Islamic Post Blog

Final Inaugural Event Interfaith Service ‘Harmonies of Liberty’ by Khalida
February 2, 2009, 10:10 am
Filed under: February Volume I- 2009, National | Tags:

Parallels Drawn Between Islam and Christianity

President Barack Obama, along with First Lady Michelle Obama, attended an invitation-only prayer service at Washington National Cathedral on his first full day in office, January 21. Seated next to the Obama’s were Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill. Also in attendance were former President Bill Clinton and the, then unconfirmed, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. As is the inaugural tradition dating back to George Washington- Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Hindu clergy took part in the service recognizing an interfaith society.
“President-elect Obama’s faith is a central part of his life and he will begin the first full day of his Administration with a service of interfaith prayer and reflection,” said Presidential Inaugural Committee Communications Director Josh Earnest prior to the inauguration itself. “The National Prayer Service, which will embody the themes of tolerance, unity and understanding, is a worship service for all Americans.”
The following are some excerpts from the prayer service:
The Reverend Andy Stanley led the congregation in a prayer: “Grant to Barack Obama, President of the United States, and to all in authority, your grace and goodwill,” he said. “Bless them with your heavenly gifts, give them wisdom and strength to know and to do your will.”
Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins, General Minister and President, Disciples of Christ urged the new President and Vice President to be mindful of the moral compass when embarking on the long road of work ahead: “What you are entering now, Mr. President and Mr. Vice President, will tend to draw you away from your ethical center. But we, the nation that you serve, need you to hold the ground of your deepest values, of our deepest values. Beyond this moment of high hopes, we need you to stay focused on our shared hopes, so that we can continue to hope, too. We will follow your lead.”
Rev. Watkins continued, “…We need you, leaders of this nation, to stay centered on the values that have guided us in the past; values that empowered to move us through the perils of earlier times and can guide us now into a future of renewed promise.”
“Recently Muslim scholars from around the world released a document, known as “A Common Word Between Us. It proposes a common basis for building a world at peace. That common basis? Love of God and love of neighbor!” Rev. Watkins exclaimed.
To illustrate the point of what is needed within oneself to foster community service, in the case of President Obama that being the service of his country in a very broad sense, the Reverend offered a folk tale which spoke about a concept that, in Islam, is known as purification of the nafs, or lower desires.
“There is a story attributed to Cherokee wisdom:
“One evening a grandfather was teaching his young grandson about the internal battle that each person faces.
“There are two wolves struggling inside each of us,” the old man said.
“One wolf is vengefulness, anger, resentment, self-pity, fear . . .
“The other wolf is compassion, faithfulness, hope, truth, love . . .”
The grandson sat, thinking, then asked: “Which wolf wins, Grandfather?”
His grandfather replied, “The one you feed.”
There are crises banging on the door right now, pawing at us, trying to draw us off our ethical center—crises that tempt us to feed the wolf of vengefulness and fear.
We need you, Mr. President, to hold your ground. We need you, leaders of this nation, to stay centered on the values that have guided us in the past; values that empowered to move us through the perils of earlier times and can guide us now into a future of renewed promise.
We need you to feed the good wolf within you, to listen to the better angels of your nature, and by your example encourage us to do the same.”
President Obama has long insisted that change for America will come from the American people. According to the Islamic maxim, “Your deeds are your rulers,” the votes of the citizens of the United States reflected a turnabout in sentiment that has apparently already occurred in this great land and manifested itself in his election.
Drawing parallels between Muslim and Christian teachings, Rev. Watkins asked, “So how do we go about loving God? Well, according to Isaiah, summed up by Jesus, affirmed by a worldwide community of Muslim scholars and many others, it is by facing hard times with a generous spirit: by reaching out toward each other rather than turning our backs on each other.”
President Obama listened intently as Rev. Watkins once again encouraged steadfastness by the new administration to maintain values, hope, and encourage reaching out to neighbors both near and far, “In international hard times, our instinct is to fight —to pick up the sword, to seek out enemies, to build walls against the other… But on the way to those tough decisions, which American promises will frame those decisions? Will you continue to reason from your ethical center, from the bedrock values of our best shared hopes?”
Barack Obama later emphasized this same sentiment during his first television interview as president –for which he specifically chose a Muslim outlet–  when he claimed late last month, “my job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world.” (See, “President Obama: ‘No Enmity with Muslims,’ on A2).
As the U.S. economy struggles, and consumer confidence freefalls, the Reverend encourages President Obama and his cabinet, “In financial hard times, our instinct is flight—to hunker down, to turn inward, to hoard what little we can get our hands on, to be fearful of others who may take the resources we need…In times, such as these, we the people need you, the leaders of this nation, to be guided by the counsel that Isaiah gave so long ago, to work for the common good, for the public happiness, the well-being of the nation and the world, knowing that our individual well-being depends upon a world in which liberty and justice prevail.”
The President of the Islamic Society of North America, Dr. Ingrid Mattson, was also in attendance representing American Muslims in the prayer service, “Muslim Americans join their fellow citizens in praying that our country will continue to realize, ever more fully, the American dream of freedom, justice and equality for all people.”
Other clergy in attendance: Rev. Suzan Johnson-Cook, Senior Pastor, Bronx Christian Fellowship, New York City; Rabbi Jerome Epstein, Director, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, New York City; Rev. Carol Wade of the Washington National Cathedral; Dr. Uma Mysorekar, President, Hindu Temple Society of North America, New York City; Rev. Jim Wallis, President, Sojourners, Washington, D.C.; Rabbi Haskal Lookstein, Congregation Kehilath Jeshurunm, New York City; Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell, Senior Pastor, Windsor Village United Methodist Church, Houston, TX
-Excerpts compiled by Yasmin A. Atheem


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