I was born and raised Roman Catholic. My religion was chosen and given to me by my parents. Throughout the years, I have lost touch with my religious upbringing. In fact, I would consider myself without a current religion. However, I believe in faith, prayer and peace. Earlier this year, I attended an interfaith luncheon at the First United Methodist Church of Orlando, where three different organizations represented three different religions. The three organizations were the Southwest Orlando Jewish Congregation, the Husseini Islamic Center, and the Nonahood’s very own Spring of Life United Methodist Church. It was an honor to be invited and inspiring to participate.
Prior to the luncheon, I received an email stating the agenda and the talking points. My initial assumption was that we were going to ask faith-based questions to gain understanding between the religions. I was wrong.
The questions were simple: What does a family meal look like? How does your faith influence your relationship with food? The goal was simply to get to know one another and meet someone new. I was nervous that my lack of religious knowledge would hinder my participation, but reading the goal helped to reduce my concerns.
The day of the luncheon, I arrived with a wonderful friend. Her presence truly put me at ease. We sat together and met a beautiful woman from the Husseini Islamic Center. I have a confession to make. [At this point in my article, you are allowed to judge me (as if you hadn’t already.)] In my adult life, I had never had a full conversation with a woman who wore a veil to cover her head and chest; the veil is called a hijab. I do not know why I have never had a conversation with a woman of the Muslim faith.
The interfaith luncheon provided me that opportunity. The woman and I seemed to be about the same age. She was a mother, like me. She was divorced and had moved to Orlando a couple years ago to be closer to family. She had been a professional banker for more than 20 years and currently owned her own transportation business. When talking about her family meal, she mentioned how she invites the whole family and they cook and feast together. She said it could be up to 40 people eating, talking and laughing.
As she told stories about her family meal, I was remembering the large family meals we had while I was growing up. I would run around with my cousins while my parents cooked something delicious and fragrant. The adults stayed inside cooking or talking while all the kids tried to stay outside and out of trouble. I wanted to tell her how similar her meals were to mine growing up, but alas, we had only an hour and there were others at the table.
Seated at our table was Rabbi Hillel Skolnik from the Southwest Orlando Jewish Congregation. Although I have many friends who are Jewish, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten lunch with a rabbi. He shared with us the tradition of Shabbat, or Sabbath. According to www.MyJewishLearning.com, Shabbat is defined as a weekly 25-hour observance, from just before sundown each Friday through the completion of nightfall on Saturday. Shabbat is more than just a day off from labor. Rabbi Skolnik described it as a day where he was able to be free from his phone and from emails and was able to bless his children. He was so sincere in speaking about his young children and recently adopted puppy. He admitted that at times it is stressful, but he always looked forward to being able to bless his children regardless of the stressors of the week.
Although I do not belong to a specific religion, I wish for that type of tradition for my family. I see Christian families gathering together on Sunday mornings, dressed in their best attire heading off to church. Religion offers traditions that have been passed down for centuries and unites us to our ancestors. Being a part of the interfaith luncheon allowed me to notice the similarities with the various religions, but more importantly the need to learn from one another.
According to The World Fact Book provided by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) at www.cia.gov, in 2010 the religions of our world are made up of 31.4% Christian, 23.2% Muslim, 15% Hindu, 7.1% Buddhist, 5.9% folk religions, 0.2% Jewish, 0.8% other, and 16.4% people who are unaffiliated. Participating in the interfaith luncheon, I was able to meet new people. I was able to gain greater understanding about that specific individual.
On the website of the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church, an article about the interfaith lunch stated, “Their combined faith and belief in God brought them together, Hajji Hussain, Inayat Walli, Rabbi Hillel Skolnik, and Rev. Josh Bell; the goal was to simply get to know each other.”
The photography was taken by Hajji Hussain from the Husseini Islamic Center.