No Muslim is surprised when they hear someone say, “Bismillah-ir-Rahman-ir-Rahim” (In the name of Allah, The Gracious, The Merciful). So why was I surprised? Because this was not just another Muslim saying Bismillah. It was a Rabbi.
Dear reader, if you are of a non-Muslim faith, allow me to explain. Every chapter of the Quran starts with Bismillah-ir-Rahman-ir-Rahim. Actually, all 114 chapters except one. We begin each chapter, invoking the name of Allah, The Gracious, The Merciful. To keep God close and center in our lives, we say Bismillah whenever we start something. It could be as one takes the first bite at dinner, starts the car, or sits down to write a blog.
That was the background – Bismillah-101.
So, where does the Rabbi come in?
“Once a month, Roly holds an evening of music as an alternative Sabbath service. Would you like to come?” My Jewish friend asked, referring to Rabbi Rolando Matalon.
“Sure.” Khalid and I love the Sabbath services conducted by the B’nai Jeshurun Congregation.
We sat in a semi-circle, swaying with the soulful melodies and strumming of the guitar, the book of prayers—Siddur Sim Shalom—in our hands. After every few minutes, Khalid would nudge me to a passage in the book and whisper, “It’s so similar to the Quran.” Shhhh! I’d whisper back.
Then the Rabbi started speaking. Don’t remove God from your lives. . . . in everything that you do, remember God, he urged. Not remembering him is like creating a void in your life . . . . He told a story. When he and his entourage was traveling in Morocco, a baggage handler, just before lifting the bags, muttered under his breath, “Bismillah-ir-Rahman-ir-Rahim”. Translated: In the name of God, The Gracious, The Merciful. That, the Rabbi explained, is an example of reminding oneself of God. This man, before he starts to do anything, first invokes the name of God, remembers God, and dedicates that moment to Him.
I sat among a congregation of Jews, on their holy day, in their sacred space, and absorbed the impact. A Rabbi, urging his congregation to remember God, had cited the example of a Muslim.
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