As I sit to write this article in my office, vaccines for COVID-19 are being distributed to hospitals across the nation. I can’t help but feel hopeful and grateful. To some, both sentiments — hopefulness and gratefulness — can occur naturally within us, but to many, this isn’t the case. It takes work and striving to reach a mental, emotional and spiritual state of gratitude and aspiration.
As a man of faith, I consider religious narratives to serve the sole purpose of reminding us constantly of the value and virtue of hanging on to hope and to resort to gratitude at all times. Throughout this year, we have faced some of the greatest challenges in the modern age: A pandemic, economic losses, loss of loved ones, isolation, social injustice, racial discrimination, a historically destructive storm, and unprecedented political polarization.
You may be shocked or surprised when I tell you that as a Muslim, in this past year, I found myself going back to the stories of Jesus and Moses in the Quran, to nourish my soul, to remind myself that there is hope and light in the midst of all the darkness and confusion we are all going through right now.
I have served as an Imam to the Muslim community here in Cedar Rapids for the past eight years or so, and one of the things I will always appreciate about this city is its people. The unreal sense of home, welcoming and generosity of the people of Cedar Rapids is something that you can’t help but note whether in grocery stores, from your neighbors or simply passing by people on sidewalks. This kindness is something I have observed, and continue to, on a daily basis in countless interactions. This warmness is what makes the cold winters of Iowa so charming to me, however much I hate shoveling snow.
The Quran celebrates both Jesus and Mary as reminders of compassion, mercy and faith. Jesus is described in the Quran as the Spirit of God. That is because his life exemplified and reflected God’s true essence: mercy and compassion to all. Many may not know that Mary, mother of Jesus, has a chapter named after her in the Quran and that she is an example of resilience and faith to all Muslims.
The Quran also teaches us that the courage and faith of Moses in facing the tyranny of the Pharaoh and delivering the Israelites from oppression is a living reminder to all of us to speak and stand up for the oppressed. Moses’ story is the most repeated narrative in the Quran. As Muslims we may hold different theological views on the nature of Jesus, but what we have in common with our Christian brothers and sisters is more than enough to form a common ground of neighborly love and mutual respect and appreciation.
Islam teaches its adherents to go above and beyond to find commonalities with all people, but especially People of the Book: Jews and Christians. Both communities are seen within the Islamic tradition as recipients of Divine revelations in the form of the Torah and the Gospel.
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For so many years, extremism, misinformation and ill intentions have all kept us busy trying to defend the honor of our faith, correct misconceptions and reclaim its spirit of peace. The pandemic may have been the single greatest challenge to humanity in our time — but the blessings often are hidden in the midst of trials. This challenge has shown us that we are all one and the same in facing this episode of terror. We are all vulnerable. We are all impacted. The pandemic spared no one, neither did the derecho. And as such, together we will have to work together to make it through and to rebuild our communities, Jews, Christians, Muslims and all.
For now, let us pause, let us take the time to appreciate our blessings and be grateful for them, let us be inspired and hopeful. For our Jewish neighbors, your Muslim neighbors, friends and family wish you a happy Hanukkah. For our Christian neighbors, family and friends, we wish you a blessed Christmas. We share faith. We share hope. We are grateful for you. May the lights of your menorahs and Christmas trees guide our way forward.
Imam Hassan M. Selim leads the Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids and is a member of the Inter-Religious Council of Linn County.