Jummah is the Friday midday prayer for Muslims, and Muslims are especially encouraged to pray in a congregation for this unique service. Before leading the prayer, a Muslim religious leader gives a sermon, or qutbah, focusing on an aspect of Islam. As a devout Muslim, I try my best to attend Jummah services whenever possible.
During the ILI, I was glad that we would have a short break on Friday to attend Jummah, and I was even more excited to meet a new Muslim imam who would lead the services. Therefore, I was completely shocked when, a few hours before the prayer, some IFYC organizers asked me to lead. I was no imam: I could read and recite Arabic but not understand it; I had a solid knowledge of Islam but I was unfamiliar with specialized traditions and hadiths; above all, I was very young. However, I realized that this opportunity was a true honor, and one that I would probably not have again for several years.
I agreed to lead the prayers, but now I needed to come up with a short sermon in less than two hours! Luckily, I had some experience analyzing Quranic verses that supported interfaith work, and I decided to make those the focus of my qutbah. As the hour for Jummah approached, I kept wondering, “What if I make a mistake?” “What if I read the wrong verse?” As I began the recitation with In the Name of Allah… I also earnestly asked for God’s help and support for the qutbah; in making this appeal and truly submitting to God (the meaning of “Islam”), I could feel my nervousness receding. I then began my qutbah about interfaith work in Islam, and how Allah says that “Anyone that does an atom’s worth of good will feel it” (Quran, 99:7).
As I continued to speak, my prepared notes became irrelevant; I truly spoke from my heart about what motivated me to come to this conference and pursue interfaith work. As I concluded, I realized that I had spoken about so much more than I had originally intended: I brought in multiple Quranic verses, as well as examples from the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that I had no idea I remembered.
This experience erased all doubt that as Muslims, we had to “water down” our faith to pursue interfaith work. My own experience had just proved that knowledge of interfaith support in the Quran had allowed a 19-year-old to lead a Jummah service, and even give a short qutbah on the topic. Through an interfaith experience at the ILI, I had experienced true and profound growth in my own religious tradition. And I strive to continue growing as a Muslim until one day I will be able to lead another Jummah service as a true spiritual leader.