Archive for the ‘suzanne morgan’ tag
Sharing Sacred Spaces via Hyde Park – Kenwood Interfaith Council
We are excited to announce three new dates for the winter and spring in the Sharing Sacred Spaces program, which offers an opportunity to visit diverse spaces used for different kinds of spiritual practice and to forge friendships and common understanding among different communities.
Friday, February 7 at 6 pm – Taizé Hyde Park
Hosted by Calvert House, 5735 S. University Ave.
Sunday, March 9 at 3 pm – Congregation Rodfei Zedek
5200 S. Hyde Park Blvd.
Sunday, May 18 at 3 pm – Shambhala Meditation Center
37 N. Carpenter St. (in the West Loop)
The Sharing Sacred Spaces approach to encouraging interfaith dialogue was inspired by architect Suzanne Morgan who is the “Sacred Spaces Ambassador” for the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions. Morgan says, “Spaces become sacred through the meaning they have for their constituents. Sharing that meaning can build bridges of trust and reduce social tension and cultural misunderstanding. Sacred spaces are healing places. They help all of us to become whole by connecting us to the divine.”
Defining sacred beliefs in language we can all understand is no easy feat, even for faith leaders. So imagine when a professional must be hired to design worship space. This someone guides the tenets of a spiritual tradition into a built space, designing structures that symbolize and embody the sacred. Somewhere embedded in the blueprint, architecture becomes a vehicle for interreligious understanding.
An exhibit of five architectural models of sacred spaces commissioned by Suzanne Morgan, architect and CPWR Senior Ambassador, opened the Institute for Human Science and Culture at the University of Akron Center of History and Psychology June 15. This was the premiere appearance of the exhibit outside of Chicago.
On its opening and closing day, Morgan presented a 30-minute PowerPoint and shared the story of how the events of 9/11 convinced her that interfaith understanding was desperately needed. By sharing what religious architecture taught her about other traditions, Morgan realized these models could contribute to healing.
These models showcase the exterior design, as well as the interior shape and liturgical arrangement of space. Architectural design can assist in describing the faith and practices of various religious beliefs. Of the five featured models, one is designed and built by a Chicagoan who originally built dollhouses for his children. Lending a captivating quality, his synagogue model features bright colors. This attracts younger children, and stimulates the imagination of adults, too.
“We can learn about other faiths in a neutral, universal, and beautiful way through architecture,” Morgan states. At the exhibit, learning from the architecture about a congregation’s values and beliefs is enhanced by interpretive texts framed and hung beside each model. When congregations intentionally build their structures illustrative of their faith and their religious practices, they are providing a tangible form of their beliefs.
“I initially introduced an idea for a Center for Religious Architecture in Chicago to the Parliament of World’s Religions,” Morgan recalls. “There, I was given the names of a dozen religious leaders in Chicago, names who opened doors to me for tours of their spaces.”
While working with congregations in the design of sacred spaces, Morgan discovered how useful it is for people to envision their designs in a 3-dimensional way.Morgan wanted to use architectural models of sacred spaces so that people would better understand the history and traditions.
Morgan states that this collection is only the beginning of a more comprehensive collection of architectural models, photos, and artifacts that represents a wide range of religious traditions. The current collection comprises two Roman Catholic churches, a Unitarian church, a synanogue, and a Protestant church.
“I would like to expand the collection by identifying- through people of faith- sacred spaces that they can sponsor and add to the collection,” Morgan says. As the collection expands, travels, and gains support, she dreams that it will become a museum with an interreligious center, where people can connect with one another through various events and celebrations and can explore new rituals and liturgies together.
By the Akron exhibit’s close, Morgan’s collection became front page news in a major Ohio newspaper. As female leadership is critical to conversations interweaving faith, art, and science, peaceseekers everywhere can be upifted that the exhibit further introduced the power of interfaith understanding to the mainstream of middle America.
Morgan extends an invitation to organizations affiliated with the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, and can consult with interested venues on hosting an exhibit of sacred space models of up to three months. Please contact the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions for more information.
On the 25th anniversary of the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN), more than 150 friends came together in Toronto over August 11 through 14 to convene the annual Connect conference. Leaders of religious, faith, and spiritual communities from across the continent gathered for workshops, plenaries and inspirational tours of sacred sites to learn and celebrate interfaith relationships some regarded “like family.”
The 25-year-old network currently led by Rob Hankinson of Edmonton, CA, energized participants across programs themed “In Diversity Is Our Strength.” The message was enhanced with a plenary on best practices gleaned from Canada’s legal history of human rights, a gripping panel delving into the importance of understanding diverse traditions within the indigenous communities, and the overarching agenda of most workshops focusing on cross-community development for all participating interfaith institutions. Youth engagement commanded a broad interest over the days of reflecting on what new talents come into the movement with several next generation of interfaith leaders in attendance.
Reconnecting to some of the first and brightest leaders on the North American Interfaith scene, the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions attendees Chair Imam Dr. Abdul Malik Mujahid, Senior Ambassador for Sacred Spaces Suzanne Morgan, and CPWR Staff Molly Horan were greeted by this spirit of partnership and collaboration. The Parliament was also represented by some of NAIN’s longest advocates including CPWR Board Chair Emeritus Bob Thompson, Ambassador Advisory Committee persons Kay Lindahl and Paul Eppinger, Parliament Ambassadors Sande Hart and Simran Jeet Singh, and past CPWR staff Ruth Broyde Sharone, each leading regional interfaith efforts.
As the legacy of NAIN leaders were heard over video and live speeches, one by former NAIN Chair Kay Lindahl reminded that interfaith is rooted in the beauty of conversation, relationship, and collective action in an original poem in tribute to NAIN penned by Lindahl’s husband, Frank Hotchkiss.
NAIN’s next annual conference will be held in Detroit in 2014 with interim fundraising efforts working to increase youth scholarships. A goal of $25,000 over the 25th year was announced and kick-started with a generous $2,000 donation from the global action network, United Religions Initiative.
“Gathered As One” was graciously shared with CPWR for publication.
GATHERED AS ONE
We, gathered as one,
Here, now, in this place,
Seeking a holy harmony,
Can we let these walls recede,
Dissolve, and be replaced
By visions of historic landscapes -
Where tribes of peoples long ago
Created stories, rituals and beliefs
That now form our differing faiths -
Those landscapes of earliest times:
Mighty rivers, plains, mountain valleys,
Desert oases, steep cliffs, shores by the sea,
Great forests; all visible
In a swirl of differing colors
With differing sounds and song?
Then, can we envision differing structures
Made to honor Gods or God:
Rings of stone, great mounds, kivas,
Pyramids, stone sundials in stone cities
High in the clouds, fine temples,
Great cathedrals, all of diverse design
In differing lands, with differing chants
And differing songs of worship?
Let these also recede, dissolve –
All the magnificence
Created over many centuries,
And now return to a vast
Far-reaching, interweaving expanse
Of those early native landscapes
All the people of our global family
Marching from the four directions,
As we create, here, now,
A new magic space for all who seek
To heal and be strong stewards
For our global home,
all who seek peace,
Who know of the transformative power
Of love and of those mysterious,
Blessed, spiritual connections
With the sacred.
Frank Hotchkiss 8/8/13 email@example.com
How Did The Sacred Spaces Solidarity Pledge Come About?
How Suzanne Morgan Measures The Impact Of The Solidarity Pledge
The fact that all eight congregations got up at the podium, read their tradition’s declaration and signed the pledge on behalf of that tradition, along with Vance Henry of the Mayor’s office, and the CPWR, was amazing and touching. The proof of its effect, for me, was when a man working on the stage and sound setup came up to me afterward. He said to me, ‘My wife and I are having problems; Monday we are going to a marriage counselor. Well, after what I have witnessed here today, people of these different faiths, known by their fighting around the world, agreeing to work together in the face of any defamation or threat to their religions, certainly, I can work things out with my wife!’That did it for me!
Deep Connections Over Year Two Programs
Congregation Sinai invited each of the communities to view thought provoking documentaries with a presentation by a panel of speakers and Muslim-led open dialogue. Chicago Sinai also invited each of the communities to an educational Seder dinner fostering love of neighbor and interfaith understanding.
During UN designated World Interfaith Harmony Week, The Downtown Islamic Center demonstrated the hospitality of Abraham by hosting a meal and dialogue workshop: Beyond Separation, Seeds of Change, Dialogue Skills for Cultivating Interreligious Cooperation. A Program of Dialogue for the Common Good, LLC. In addition, Islamic prayers were explained, followed by open dialogue to respond to curious participants.
Also during World Interfaith Harmony Week, the Midwest Buddhist Temple and Sacred Spaces jointly hosted a New Year celebration programmed to release the hardships and limitations of the past and to plant seeds of hope and peace. All the religious communities were invited to share and present at this experiential interreligious New Year’s ceremony, dining on symbolic Japanese cuisine and refreshments.
Fourth Presbyterian Church invited the Sacred Space communities to the Community Grand Opening of their newly constructed Gratz Center followed by an Open House. Guests enjoyed lively conversations together, appetizers, and live music. Fourth Presbyterian Church also hosted an event with world-renowned speaker Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Chairman of the Cordoba Institute and member of the Interfaith Center of New York.
Old St. Pat’s Catholic Church invited the Sacred Spaces religious communities to their annual Memorial Service for the homeless attracting so much attendance it became a standing room only event.
Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist invited the religious communities to participate an intimate experiential Mid-Week Prayer Meeting focused on “How Can We Feel Safe in the Face of Danger.” The evening began with sacred readings from Holy Scripture and Mary Baker Eddy’s works, and progressed into quiet time in between open dialogue, as participants felt compelled to share.
Saint James Episcopal Cathedral ended the second year of events with a Concert & Photographic Display, “Portraits and Voices” by Michael Nye on Mental Health Disorders in the United States.
Sharing Sacred Spaces in Hyde Park, Chicago Launched, Too
The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religion’s Sharing Sacred Spaces program has two objectives for interreligious community building in a neighborhood or city: (1) to facilitate a collection of diverse congregations to become comfortable with each other and enthusiastic about signing a pledge of solidarity agreeing to stand with each other in the face of antireligious defamation or threat and then (2) to see that newly bonded group select a humanitarian issue in their neighborhood/city to address, and articulate a way to implement a solution together.
A May 5 event at First Unitarian Church completed a yearlong program from the Sharing Sacred Spaces project in Hyde Park. Six South-Side Chicago congregations agreed to each hold an event at their sacred space for the purpose of interreligious engagement for those attending, including KAMII congregation, Ellis Avenue Church, Chicago Theological Seminary, Augustana Lutheran Church, St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church
The Sunday afternoon events began in October of 2012 and were completed this May. A second year of events is being planned to continue the engagement. The Hyde Park and Kenwood Interfaith Council has been in existence for over 100 years, mainly consisting of Christian denominations in the Hyde Park area. With the SSS program, they plan to widen their vision to include additional traditions in new ways.
Upcoming Chicago Events: An Evening with Imam Feisal, Interreligious New Year Celebration, and Interfaith Prayers
The United Nations’ Interfaith Harmony Week begins February 1 and will continue through February 7. Recognizing the critical need for inter-religious dialogue, events will be held worldwide to observe this special time of year. We encourage all to attend an Interfaith event. Some of the following events held here in Chicago are free and open to all.
CPWR Sacred Space Ambassador, Suzanne Morgan, and Carisse Ramos developed the Interreligious New Year Program being hosted by the Midwest Buddhist Temple in Chicago on Friday, February 1, 6:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m, Midwest Buddhist Temple, 435. W Menomonee St., Chicago. The program features:
- Year-End Introduction by Rev. Ron Miyamura
- Buddhist Ringing of the Bell
- Sharing New Year Practices from Diverse Traditions
- *Presenters followed by participants New Year Flower Release
- Toshi Koshi Soba Noodles and refreshments
*Buddhist, Candoble, Greek Orthodox, Indigenous, Islam, Jain, Judaism, Roman Catholic, Unitarian, Zoroastriansim\
The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religion join the Asian-American Coalition of Chicago to present a gathering with representatives of different Metropolitan Chicago area faith communities to lead prayers for Peace, Prosperity and Harmonious Co-existence. Finding ways to transcend religious divides and foster mutual understanding and respect between people will continue through this service on February 23.You are invited Saturday, February 23, 2013, 4:00 p.m – 5:30 p.m., Hyatt Regency O’Hare (Grand Ball Room – Section F-G-H), 9300 W. Bryn Mawr Avenue, Rosemont, IL 60018 (Parking at Hyatt Regency O’Hare Hotel Parking lot is complimentary)For More Information, please contact: Rajinder Singh Mago 630-440-7730, Dr. Mary Nelson 312-629-2990, or Dr. Nguyen-Trung Hieu 773-307-5035
Chicago has served as the site of a nine-month pilot program designed to foster interreligious dialogue and understanding, using a resource most religious and spiritual communities already have at their fingertips—spaces to gather.
The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions’ (CPWR) “Sharing Sacred Spaces” project conisted of “open house” type events at eight spaces of local religious and spiritual communities, with the intention to “deepen appreciation for the diverse religious and spiritual traditions by focusing on the spaces that are sacred to these communities.”
A final, culminating event, “Sacred Solidarity,” took place in downtown Chicago, at which representatives from the eight participating communities gathered to sign a pledge committing to work to maintain the ties of trust and friendship built during the last eight months.
“At a time when hatred and violence erupts over religious differences internationally, [this] quiet collaborative effort in Chicago has forged alliances and fostered new friendships across religious lines”, said Rev. Dirk Ficca, executive director of the CPWR.
Eight communities in Chicago sign solidarity pledge after visiting each other’s sacred spaces.
by Sarah Fentem
To Suzanne Morgan, the scene Sunday afternoon in Federal Plaza—a bright, white tent, a podium and lectern placed in front of folding chairs, the blindingly bright springtime sun—had the feeling of a graduation.
And for good reason. The stage was set to celebrate the completion of the eight-month Chicago “Sharing Sacred Spaces” program, a series of interfaith events during which eight participating Chicago communities of faith and practice invited others into their sacred space, engaged the visitors around matters of their faith, and provided hospitality and conversation. Morgan, a retired architect, designed the program, which was sponsored by the Council for the Parliament of World’s Religions(CPWR).
Participating communities included a Buddhist Temple, a Jewish Reform Congregation, the Downtown Islamic Center, an Episcopal Cathedral, and United Methodist, Christian Science, Presbyterian, and Catholic churches.
photos by John White
By Sunday, all the communities had shared their sacred space with one another, and were gathered together for the first time not to focus on an individual space or religion, but to celebrate the harmony and diversity of the group as a whole.
“It really solidifies what we’ve done,” Morgan said of the event.
“This is the beginning of the journey, not the end,” said Dirk Ficca, the Executive Director of the CPWR. Ficca announced the success of the program “exceeded expectations” and the Chicago pilot program will be used as a model for 80 partner cities around the world.
Of the program, Morgan said herself she had “No clue how it would turn out,” explaining the success of the “Sharing Sacred Spaces” depended on the public’s involvement.
“We were amazed at how people took this up,” she said. “They wanted to connect, to share something.”
The diversity and harmony among the participating communities was underscored by the signing of the “Sacred Spaces” Solidarity Pledge, the focal point of the event.
The Solidarity Pledge speaks of the bonds of mutual respect and trust forged among the eight participating faith communities during the last eight months. By signing the pledge, they promise to support and respect each other, stand together against public disrespect or harm of any faith community, and to celebrate “shared values of justice, peacemaking, and harmony in diversity.”
As a representative from each location took the stage to sign the pledge, they also read a personal statement explaining what the pledge meant to their community. The statements were as diverse as the communities from which they came.
“We commit to this pledge because as Jews we know the history of bigotry and intolerance,” said Rabbi David Levsinky from the Chicago Sinai Congregation. Syed Khan, from the Downtown Islamic Center, referenced the “pledge of mutual support and defense” the Prophet Muhammed made with the citizens of Medina before he signed the pledge. And Kwang Oh, the representative from the First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple, said “We as United Methodists believe there is a God who loves us and calls for us to love one another, who insists we work with all people.”
The communities’ declarations showcased the philosophy at the heart of “Sharing Sacred Spaces”—that what makes us different ultimately can be what brings us together.
Sunday, June 10, 2-4pm
Federal Plaza, on the southwest corner of Adams and Dearborn
Eight Chicago Religious and Spiritual Communities to Pledge Interfaith Cooperation on June 10
“Sacred Solidarity” is a public event that is the culmination of an eight-month project called “Sharing Sacred Spaces” sponsored by the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions (CPWR).
“Religious and spiritual communities standing with each other in the face of religiously-motivated defamation, hatred and violence is the meaning of solidarity,” says Dirk Ficca, Executive Director of CPWR. “Grounding a pledge of solidarity from within their religious and spiritual traditions makes it sacred. That religious and spiritual communities in downtown Chicago have made such a pledge brings a sacred dimension to the civil space they share.”
In the past eight months, people from different Chicago religious and spiritual communities have forged bonds of friendship and trust through the “Sacred Spaces” series of events. The pledge they sign will symbolize their ongoing effort to honor and respect their different traditions, as well as committing to spread this effort to the surrounding community.
Representatives from the eight participating communities will gather to sign a pledge committing to work together to reduce social tension and build bridges of trust and hope in the city of Chicago. These bonds were built as each of the eight communities invited others into their sacred space, engaged the visitors around matters of their tradition or practice and provided hospitality and conversation. Welcoming each other into their sacred spaces created appreciation of the various religious and spiritual traditions and a sense of community between the participants.
The public is encouraged to join in the pledge-signing event on Sunday, June 10th, 2-4pm, at Federal Plaza, on the southwest corner of Adams and Dearborn.
The solidarity pledge speaks to the many levels of understanding and respect that were built over the eight-month period among eight different religious communities in Chicago. The eight communities are the Midwest Buddhist Temple, Fourth Presbyterian Church, St. James Episcopal Cathedral, Chicago Sinai Congregation, First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple, Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist, Old St. Patrick’s Catholic church and the Downtown Islamic Center. The pledge is as follows:
“Sharing Sacred Spaces” Solidarity Pledge
We, communities of faith and spirit serving in the Chicago metropolitan area, acknowledge and commit to these ideals:
- that the work of cultivating the religious and spiritual life of human beings is an essential part of the strength and progress of our wider community
- that supporting those who are committed to cultivating religious and spiritual life strengthens the entire fabric of our community
- that we honor the wider traditions of those affiliated with and worshipping or practicing with the communities listed here
- that we actively look for ways to stand in solidarity with each other and to serve our wider community
- that we stand together against any public attempt to disrespect or harm the well-being of any community of faith or practice or its sacred space
- and we celebrate our shared values of compassion, justice, peacemaking, and harmony in diversity.
The eight participating communities:
- The Midwest Buddhist Temple, 435 W. Menomonee, 312-943-7801
- The Fourth Presbyterian Church, 126 E. Chestnut, 312-787-4570
- St James Episcopal Cathedral, 64 E. Huron, 312-787-7360
- The Chicago Sinai Congregation, 15 W. Delaware, 312-867-7000
- The First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington,312-236-4548
- The Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist, 44 E. Wacker,312-236-4671
- Old St. Patrick’s Church, 700 W. Adams St, 312-648-1021
- The Downtown Islamic Center, 231 S. State, 312-939-9095
Rev. Dirk Ficca, executive director of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, says the “Sharing Sacred Spaces” model of community building will be offered to other neighborhoods and suburbs of Chicago as well as to over 70 international Partner Cities. “Chicago is just the beginning,” says Ficca. “Together, we hope to chart a course that will strengthen bonds between diverse religious and cultural communities throughout the world.”
by Sarah Fentem
For the past eight months, Chicago has served as the site of a pilot interreligious program designed to foster religious dialogue and understanding, using a resource most religious and spiritual communities already have at their fingertips—spaces to gather.
The last of eight hosted events of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions’ (CPWR) “Sharing Sacred Spaces” series took place May 12, wrapping up a program that intended to “deepen appreciation for the diverse religious and spiritual traditions by focusing on the spaces that are sacred to these communities.”
A final, culminating event, “Sacred Solidarity” will take place on June 10th in downtown Chicago, at which representatives from the eight participating communities with gather to sign a pledge committing to work to maintain the ties of trust and friendship built during the last eight months.
“At a time when hatred and violence erupts over religious differences internationally, [this] quiet collaborative effort in Chicago has forged alliances and fostered new friendships across religious lines”, said Rev. Dirk Ficca, executive director of the CPWR.
Chicago architect Suzanne Morgan, inspired by her work with liturgical architecture, served as the impetus of the program. Since mosques, churches, synagogues, and temples are in a sense a spiritual group’s “home,” sharing them would lend a sense of kinship and community not unlike when neighbors visit each other.
“Spaces become sacred through the meaning they have for their communities,” said Morgan. “Sharing that meaning can build bridges of trust and reduce social tension and cultural misunderstanding.”
Chicago served as the inaugural city for the event, with one of eight participating communities opening its doors every month to give a tour of their community’s “home,” explain their traditions, and answer questions for visitors. The program kicked off in October at the Midwest Buddhist Temple, an experience Sacred Spaces visitor Gale Kryzak said was “bridge-building at its best.”
The interreligious fellowship carried on through the fall, where visitors were touched by the Fourth Presbyterian Church’s spirit of reform and reinvention and St. James Episcopal Cathedral’s blend of history, music, and tradition.
In January, visitors were impressed by the Chicago Sinai Congregation’s intricate blending of architecture and faith. The First United Methodist Church and Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral both showcased how intricately a congregation’s history can be combined with the City’s past and present. The Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist and the Downtown Islamic Center offered clarity to traditions that are sometimes underrepresented or misunderstood.
While each venue was vastly different, visitors saw common threads running through each community. “Each time, I was struck by just how different the spaces, rituals and practices are from what I am accustomed,” said Peter Rubnitz, a member of Chicago Sinai who attended most of the events. “At the same time, I was equally struck by how similar the commitment to faith, values and community is to what I see at Chicago Sinai.”
“Whenever you see people who are earnestly striving for truth and living truth, there’s a heart bond here regardless what the theology or doctrine is,” said Lois Carlson, a member of the Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist.
Carlson mentioned how learning about other traditions helped her grow in her own faith.
“Theologically, I learned something that contributed to my prayer life from every one of the events”, she said. “I didn’t expect that. I expected to be educated, but I didn’t expect it to touch my heart in the way that it did.”
“I was very touched when the Muslims explained the proportion of their ten-minute prayer period was nine minute praise for 1 minute of petition. I saw myself checking my conversation with God to make sure it’s weighted on the side of praise.”
“Sacred Solidarity,” the culminating event of the “Sharing Sacred Spaces” program, will take place on Sunday, June 10th at Federal Plaza at the intersection of Adams and Dearborn in the Loop from 2-4 PM. The event, which is open to the public, will feature the signing of a pledge of solidarity that the communities composed together as a result of their experiences of sharing their sacred spaces over the last eight months.
Said Ficca: “Chicago is just the beginning. Together, we hope to chart a course that will strengthen bonds between diverse religious and cultural communities throughout the world.”
by Sarah Fentem
Mohammed Kaiseruddin, a member of the Downtown Islamic Center Board, is the first to admit there is nothing intrinsically special about the space that houses the Downtown Islamic Center (DIC).
“The DIC spaces are hardly unique”, he said. “If anything, the DIC demonstrates that our place is sacred not because of its design but because of its use.”
The DIC can only be found if you know where to look. Housed in multiple stories of a former commercial building on State Street downtown, the mosque blends seamlessly into the retail shops around the Jackson Street Red Line stop, its front door easily confused with the entrance of the apparel store adjacent.
The DIC was the final destination for the Council for a Parliament of World Religions’ “Sharing Sacred Spaces” project, a series of events that brings together different Chicago-area communities of faith and practice. Since October, one of eight participating faith communities has opened their doors each month to showcase their sacred space and share their beliefs and traditions.
The Downtown Islamic Center served as a fitting capstone for the program, demonstrating Sacred Spaces creator and Chicago architect Suzanne Morgan’s affirmation that “spaces become sacred through the meaning they have for the members of their communities.“ What makes a space holy is not what the building looks like for, as in the case of the Downtown Islamic Center, appearances can be deceiving. Instead what counts is what goes on inside.
Originally established as a space for Muslims working downtown to attend daytime prayers, the building was more of a “home away from home” than a religious center in its own right. In the past 15 years, however, the DIC has grown to become a large and vibrant religious presence downtown, with the weekly Friday prayers (Jumu’ah) attracting hundreds of people.
The youngest of the three Abrahamic religions and the world’s second largest religion after Christianity, Islam has 1.5 billion followers, or 1 Muslim for every 5 people worldwide. The defining statement of Islam is “there is none worthy of worship except God, and Muhammad is His messenger.” Muslims live lives based on the Qur'an, taken to be the literal words of God revealed to Muhammad, His prophet. Islam is based on the 5 basic acts of faith (“pillars”) as the declaration of faith in God, praying five times a day, giving to charity, fasting during the month of Ramadan, and performing pilgrimage in and around the holy city of Mecca at least once during a lifetime.
Visitors to the May 12 event were able to witness afternoon daily prayers. Visitors were ushered into a large, mostly unfurnished space on the 5th floor of the building, which could have easily been mistaken for a conference room or banquet hall at a hotel or university, save for one ornately lit, marble-covered corner on the Northeastern side of the room and diagonal, parallel lines drawn across the carpet.
The marble corner, or mihrab, is a niche that indicates the direction in which Muslims are to pray, or qiblah. No matter where they are in the world, Muslims face towards the Kaa'bah, a sacred stone building at the Great Mosque in Mecca, said to be built by Abraham (in Chicago’s case, to the Northeast). Those taking part in prayer at the DIC faced the Mihrab and, guided by the lines in the carpet, lined up neatly touching shoulder to shoulder. Except for the initial call to prayer, the praying was mostly silent.
Before entering the main prayer area on the fifth floor, visitors were asked to either remove their shoes or don fabric booties over their footwear before walking on the carpet. The removal of shoes is customary in mosques as a way to show respect when one stands before God. For the same reason, the DIC has two locker-room like facilities on the fourth floor so worshippers can perform wudu, or ritual cleansing, before praying.
Even for the visitors, the rituals lend a sense of holiness to the space. When forced to pay close attention to normally mundane activities like walking across a carpet, a person is made to become similarly aware of the things one says and does.
The holy feeling permeates the entire space. “The DIC is my spiritual home in Chicago,” said Ahmed Nyamuth, a DIC member. “As soon as I cross its threshold….a kind of peace and tranquility descend on me.”
While most Americans might think of the Middle East when they think of Islam, Muslims are most numerous in Indonesia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, a statistic reflected in the makeup of the DIC community. As the center has grown though, so has the diversity, making the DIC home to what Chairman Syed Khan calls “A true rainbow of Muslims.” The DIC is made of immigrants and Americans of all age groups and walks of life.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of the DIC is that it is run entirely by volunteers. The center is governed by a voluntary board, with administrators and services taken over by members of the community. Knowledgeable Muslims like professors give weekly sermons, and any capable person in attendance is able to lead daily prayers.
The fact that the center is run entirely by volunteers emphasizes the commitment and love its members have for their faith and their community. Said Qudsia Khan, “I feel blessed that such a space is easily and readily available to me,” underscoring a “Sacred Spaces” visitor’s comment during the tour: “It’s the people who gather that make the sacred space.”