For daily photos of my time in Oman, follow Al Alama’s Instagram (@alamanacentre)! About 99% of the time it is me posting.
I stood quietly against the wall with my hands folded, waiting for everybody to serve themselves dinner and find a seat. My gaze wandered around the room observing our Muslim, Christian, Hindu, and Sikh guests chatting lightly in English and Urdu as they settled in at Al Amana Centre. So far we’d done only brief introductions, so I was surprised to hear “Emma!” called from the dining room table. Already seated were seven Pakistani men, one of whom took his naan, broke it in half, and gave it to me. He motioned for me to take a seat, and he placed his plate filled with food so that I could reach it. Later in the meal, he then took the pitcher of water, poured it, and handed me a cup.
So there we sat: American, Pakistani, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Sikh, woman, and man gathered in communion at one table.
Each Sunday, Christian communities around the world gather together to share bread and wine through Holy Communion. I’ve participated in this ceremonious meal for as long as I can remember, and it’s always remained confusing, mysterious, and inexplicably powerful for me. On the surface, I’m chewing a tasteless wafer and sipping watered-down wine. But internally, I feel the deepest connection to God and union with my fellow Christians.
The word communion has the Latin root com-mun’-is, meaning participation by all. Or rather, exclusion of none.
As the only woman in a group with 15 men, I worried that as I would be left to passively observe because of my gender and age. I expected to be excluded because my assumptions about Pakistani men were narrow-minded and judgmental. So I was surprised when they greeted me with handshakes, involved me in discussions, and included me fully. I was surprised and blessed when they called me the “Faith Sister.”
The group is part of an organization called Faith Friends that strives for peaceful coexistence between religious groups in Pakistan. Founded in 2004, Faith Friends advocates for the oppressed, and seeks justice and peace for all people of all religions. They have a Women’s Chapter and a Youth Chapter in addition to the group we met. They came to Al Amana Centre to practice interfaith dialogue, experience Omani religious tolerance, and plan for their continued efforts in Pakistan.
Together we visited a Sikh Gurdwara, a Muslim Mosque, and a Christian Church. We discussed the role of emotions and vulnerability in religious leadership. We studied passages from the Holy Qur’an and Bible. We learned about Oman and Omani hospitality. (Hint: it involves lots of coffee and dates)
Communion is a powerful ritual; it calls us to “examine our lives, repent of our sins, and be in love and charity with all people” (Book of Common Prayer, p.859). I think in recent centuries churches have emphasized the “repent of our sins” part while neglecting the “with all people” part.
“With all people” does not mean “all people we like” nor “all people like me” nor “all people with whom we agree.” Communion reminds us to be in relationship and in love with all humans – no exceptions, no exclusion.
So I challenge you: When was the last time you shared a meal with someone from another religion? A Muslim? A Hindu? A Sikh? When was the last time you broke bread with someone your ardently disagree with? As you enter into Communion this week, are you being in love and charity with all people?
Check out some of the pictures from their visit below.