Rutgers Jumu'ah holds weekly sermon, invites non-Muslim community to attend
For a group of Muslim students, the best way to teach others about their religion is by inviting them to pray alongside them.
More than 200 people gathered in the Cooper Dining Hall on Douglass campus on Friday afternoon to participate in Jumu’ah — a weekly prayer service for Muslims. The event, officially titled "Bring your friend to Jumu’ah," welcomed people of all faiths and backgrounds.
The organizer, Rutgers Jumu’ah, has been holding a traditional sermon every Friday afternoon since 2013. Last year its members decided to organize a special event that encouraged non-Muslims to attend.
“We want to open up dialogue with the community of Rutgers and give them a glimpse to what it is like to be a Muslim,” said Haris Farooqi, co-president of the group and a School of Arts and Sciences senior.
Fellow co-president Zahra Khan noted that before Rutgers Jumu’ah began their work, there was was no place on campus where the University’s large Muslim population could gather and pray. She recalled the days when she was forced to find awkward places to pray – including under stairwells and in library cubicles.
After initially hosting their prayer services in the Second Reformed Church on the College Avenue campus, the group has now found a permanent home in the Cooper Dining Hall.
“This is going to be the home for the Muslim community (on campus) for years to come,” the School of Arts and Sciences senior said. “We hope to set a precedent here.”
The event’s Khutbah — or prayer sermon — was conducted by Imam Khalid Latif, a prominent Muslim cleric and the executive director of the Islamic Center at New York University. His inter-faith work has received world-wide recognition.
Khalid emphasized the need for individuals to understand the “narratives” that people from different cultures, religions and ethnicities have. Prejudice is simply rooted in pre-conceived notions and misconceptions, he said.
“In a world that is filled with a lot of anger, with a lot darkness, with a lot of hatred, you have to be the reason that people have hope,” he said.
In 2007, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg nominated Khalid, then 24, to become the youngest chaplain in the history of the New York City Police Department.
He described his experiences during a memorial service for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — which he attends every year as a chaplain. He was there in his police uniform and with his head covered paying tribute to the victims when three men approached him.
“Secret service has spotted you from the top of the building, they want us to check your credentials just in case,” the men said, according to Khalid.
He asked them, “Just in case of what?”
The men apologized for having to probe him, but for Khalid, the damage had already been done.
“To understand that what they were questioning at that moment was not merely my physical presence but the entire validity of my emotions tied to that area,” he said.
A Hispanic woman nearby, who had lost her son in the attacks, stood up for Khalid and expressed her disagreement with the men’s actions.
“What you are doing right now is more dishonoring to the memory of our loved ones than anything else,” she said. “This young man is standing with us in our moment of need and you are making it seem like he is doing something wrong just because he’s Muslim.”
For Khalid, the woman’s actions on that day are a spot-on reflection of the true fundamentals and spirit of Islam. She saw her self in a position of privilege and power and used it to defend somebody who was being marginalized, he said.
“She didn’t look to see if the person who was in need was of the same skin color as her or the same religion as her or anything that was similar to her,” Khalid said.
Although not a practicing Muslim, Zachary Torrey is certain that opening up and allowing yourself to experience other religions is critical in an era plagued by profound tensions and divisions between faiths.
“I think that more people from different religions should go to everybody’s services because it helps build the understanding that there are interconnections between the faiths,” the School of Arts and Sciences senior said. “A prayer service is when a religion is at its core.”
Indeed, this is the central purpose of Rutgers Jumu’ah, Farooqi said. People should not depend on the media’s portrayal of Islam to make conclusions.
They should instead attempt to come to events like this to experience directly the genuine tenets and beliefs of Muslims, he said.
“What we want them (the media) to know is that we as Muslims are not afraid to speak on our own behalf,” Farooqi said. “We want to have our own narrative and we want to be in charge of the narrative.”
Camilo Montoya-Galvez is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student majoring in Spanish and journalism and media studies. He is a correspondent for The Daily Targum. Follow him on Twitter @camiloooom.