A place of worship and sincere prayers bring us closer to the Almighty. I have a strong respect for all the religions, religious places and the mode of prayers they follow. I believe it is more important to have a strong faith, and this faith will lead us on the correct path. I decided to visit a place of worship of other religion and on my visit to Dubai recently, I went to St. Mary’s Catholic Church. It is a beautiful church located in Dubai and is dedicated to “Our Lady of Assumption” (St. Mary’s Catholic Church, n.d.). When I entered the Church premises, I was slightly apprehensive and did not know whether I was doing a right thing or not. Still I was attracted towards the peaceful interior, and felt that I have indeed come inside a holy place. I sat on a pew and looked towards the eyes of the Mother’s statue, and felt as if she is talking to me and explaining that it is we human beings who have created the differences, but on the whole, we are all the same, the followers of only one Supreme Power. I felt a calmness running through my soul and made myself comfortable because I no longer had any panic anxiousness. I started reading my guide book, which gave the details of the Church. It was inaugurated on April 7, 1967 by His Highness, the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum.
The land for the church was also donated by His Highness; later a new church was constructed in the same place and it was inaugurated on Nov 3, 1989. It can accommodate around 1700 worshippers at a single service (MobileReference, 2010). While I was reading the guide, I heard footsteps and looked up and saw a man coming towards me. He was dressed in the habit of a father and looked very serene. He came near me and just gave a simple smile and sat next down next to me. He was around 50 years, and had a dark complexion. He appeared to be of Indian origin. We sat silently for some time, and did not ask any questions. Slowly I gathered my courage and just wished him hello. He too replied hello and continued to smile, which gave me a little confidence. I introduced myself and started with a small talk of weather and the markets in Dubai and then started asking about the Church, Christianity, Mother Mary, Jesus, and other things.
He explained me everything in detail. He answered to all my queries in a very pleasant manner. After listening to his explanation, I started comparing and contrasting my own religious practices with the Christian religious practices. Christianity and Islam have some major similarities. Both the religions can be traced to Abraham, both believe in prophecies, both have faith in the messengers of God and their revelations, both have holy scriptures and follow them sincerely, their scriptures also have many similarities, both accept the theory of resurrection of the dead and both have faith in the centrality of community services. I could analyze these similarities, and when I started to think deeply I felt that there are some similarities even in their differences. Both have faith in only one God, the difference lies in the way God has been conceptualized in both the religions. According to Islam, God is single entity and he does not have any relatives and Mohammed, peace be upon him, is his prophet.
Christians believe in the Trinity and this is considered by Muslims as “shirk”, that is, attributing an associate to God. It is very difficult for Muslims to believe that Jesus is the son of God because for them God does not have any relations, He is far above human relations. Both religions believe in revelation. Christians feel that purpose of revelation is redemption, while the Muslims believe that the purpose of revelation is guidance. Muslims and Christians have strong faith that God has spoken and revealed Himself to human beings. Muslims believe that God speaks through the Quran, while Christians believe that He speaks through Jesus (ISLAM AND CHRISTIANITY, n.d.). Revelation is mediated according to Christians, while according to Muslims Quran is the unmediated word of God. Sin and Salvation have been explained differently in my religion and Christianity, but I think the story of Adam and Eve is the same in both the religions. Religious community concept is same in Islam and Christianity.
They never stay isolated and like to be linked with their brothers and sisters in the faith. In Muslims, there is no “hierarchy” like the Church, and Islam stresses on homogeneity, while Christianity has the “hierarchy” system. While I was comparing and contrasting all these religious practices, Father Francis sat silently moving his fingers on his rosary. He did not even try to pull me out of my thoughtful reverie. I was awed by his patience and slowly I asked him about the Christian fasting season. He asked me about the month of Ramadan, and when I told him it is a fasting period of 30 days, he said that even Christians fast for 40 days during the Lent season, but this practice is not followed by all the Christian Churches.
The Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians and Roman Catholics usually observe Lent season (Christianity, n.d.). It is not as strict as the Ramadan fasts, but there are other dietary restrictions. During the fasting period, the dietary laws forbid the use of meat, but not of eggs, or dairy products or seasonings made of animal fat. The fast is not compulsory and people from 14 to 60 years of age can observe the fast according to their will. He also told me about the different feasts celebrated in the Church and the different dishes prepared on these occasions.
He said because Dubai is like one of the cosmopolitan places, people from all over the world are among the Church members and therefore the feasts also have a variety of exotic dishes from all over the world. People are ready to offer free service and lot of charity work is undertaken by the Church members. Food, clothes and money are sent to across the world throughout the year, and on festivals money is collected and donated to different Charity hospitals and Christian organizations in the underdeveloped countries. I was quite impressed by the work being done by the Church, and asked him if I could donate a small amount. He just smiled and touched my shoulder, and said that if I want to donate money I have to go to the Church office. He said it was time for his prayers. I thanked him for his patience and all the information he had given. It was getting late for me too and I got up to leave the premises of the Church.
On my way home, I kept on thinking about the Church and the reasons behind visiting it. Was it coincidence that I went to this particular Church? Was it coincidence that I met Father Francis? Will I be able to visit the Church again? Did I visit the Church just for the sake of this assignment? My mind was busy questioning me all these things, and my heart did not have any answers. When I was reaching Al-Khobar, I heard the Azaan, the call for prayer, and realized that I had to go to my mosque. I directly drove towards the mosque and entered the premises and to my utter surprise, I felt the same calmness and relaxation that I had felt when I had entered the Church. This ultimately made me realize that Allah is everywhere, He resides in the hearts of human beings, we can pray Him in the way we want, and the Supreme master will listen to us because He is above all the human differences.
The creator will decide what form of prayer is right or wrong, we can just bow our heads in front of His Excellency whether it is in a Church or in a mosque. Humanity is the most important religion, but when human beings fall under the category of a particular religion they forget about their basic religion-humanity. Religions are basically meant to remind us about our humane values and responsibilities as true human beings, every religion and every religious place is respectable and when people around the world accept this fact, the world would become a better place. My visit to the Church was not a coincidence; it was part of a greater plan so that I could understand some important facts of humanity and religion.
When I walked in the Church, I was just thinking of completing my assignment and had a lot of apprehensions, but when I came out of the Church I had learned many things and my mind and heart were calm under the effect of the peaceful ambience of the holy place. This assignment helped me to understand some of the basic values of my religion and Christianity and I am indeed thankful to the organizers, my professor and the University for giving me an opportunity to learn something new about my own religion, Christianity and humanity.
ISLAM AND CHRISTIANITY. (n.d.). Retrieved January 18, 2014, from Answering Islam: http://www.answering-islam.org/Intro/comparison.html Christianity. (n.d.). Retrieved January 18, 2014, from Christianity Stack Exchange: http://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/18320/do-united-methodist-church-members-really-eat-ham-during-easter MobileReference. (2010). Travel Dubai. MobileReference.
St. Mary’s Catholic Church. (n.d.). Retrieved January 18, 2014, from Saint Mary’s Dubai: http://www.saintmarysdubai.com/