Imam Muhammed Haq begins singing a prayer in Arabic — the words may not be understood by the non-Muslims in attendance, but their meaning is clear.
The men bow and prostrate themselves, as the Imam’s voice resounds his and the mens’ prayer to God. The 7,000 miles from Alabama to Mecca close, and the men are connected with the Lord.
When the Imam’s voice stops, somehow, the silence feels full. It’s a prayer unlike any other.
Later, Dr. Abdul Amad Kazi, AIC president and Anniston ophthalmologist, explained that despite the differences in Islamic and Christian cultures, the similarities are striking.
“These are all Abrahamic faiths,” he said. “We all believe in the Abrahamic God.”
Fundamentally, he explains, Islamic, Christian and Judaic religions all center around the same God, who revealed himself to Abraham, founder and leader of the Israelites. Though each faith may pray differently, the idea is that they’re all speaking to the same God.
“Another thing our religions share is fasting,” he said, which is why the AIC invited several religious leaders from the Anniston area to share in the fast-breaking of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting.
Giving something up as a show of good faith and loyalty to God is familiar to each Abrahamic faith; Catholics spend 40 days and
nights during Lent without a favorite luxury, and the Jewish tradition of Yom Kippur involves fasting for a full 25 hours. Fasting, Kazi said, is an obvious common ground to start from.
“Christian and Muslim relations seem to be buried under mistrust,” Haq told the group of religious leaders just before sunset and the breaking of the day’s Ramadan fast. “The Islamic scriptures want Muslims to have good relations with Christians and Jews.”
In the Quran, Christians and Jewish people are referred to as “People of the Book.” One of the major rules Haq cites from the Quran: “Tell the People of the Book that we should get together on common points.”
The fast breaking was Father Bryan Lowe’s first visit to the AIC. As pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Anniston, he’s experienced in finding common ground with others.
“If you set aside expectations, everything is easier. You’ve got to presume the best of people,” he says. Lowe is interested in the potential to work together with other faiths to improve the community.
“Community assistance starts in the grassroots,” he says.
Assisting the community is one of the focuses of the AIC. They’ve recently opened the Salam Free Clinic, which provides health care to uninsured individuals and families in need. The facilities include X-ray machines and lab equipment, and is staffed with workers from local offices, like that of Dr. Ebba K. Ebba in Jacksonville.
Several of the members of the AIC have experience as healers, be it in the medical field, like doctors Kazi or Ebba, or in counseling. Jamal Martinez is a 19-year-old college student studying physical therapy, who hopes to continue that tradition. He’s read the Quran since he was 14, and this is his second year as an official member of the faith.
“Islam’ means to submit totally to the will of God, and ‘Muslim’ means one who submits totally to the will of God,” he explains, wearing the traditional prayer clothing of Ramadan. “It’s given me purpose,” he added.
Later in the evening, after the fast has been broken and everyone is grabbing plates of food ranging from traditional Islamic dishes to pizza from Papa John’s, Martinez takes a big bite of fruit salad. While he’s hungry now, he says it’s not hard to fast from sunrise to sunset every day for a month.
“If you’re doing it for the sake of God, it’s easy,” he says.