Believers of all faiths unite today in prayer

Pope Francis called on “believers of all faiths” to unite in the day of fasting and prayer to ask “God to help humankind overcome the coronavirus pandemic.”

Members of The Higher Committee of Human Fraternity, with Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar. Courtesy: The Higher Committee of Human Fraternity
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Across the streets of one borough in East London, the adhan is being broadcast from the mosques in the vicinity to remind local Muslim residents of the time for prayer. It is an unusual scene. Due to lockdown, no worshippers are hurrying to the mosque. Instead, its doors are closed.
For the thousands of local Muslims observing the month of fasting, one of their most central experiences of the year, which revolves around the mosque, is something they cannot take part in.

The result is an abject feeling of loss. To remedy this, permission has been granted by the local council for the adhan to be proclaimed. It appears to be human understanding at its finest, to extend understanding and joy to others in a time of difficulty.

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The global faith leadership across religions has backed science and human safety right from the start, closing its institutions on the expert advice of scientists

While there are upsetting stories of rising racism and Islamophobia during this current pandemic and associated lockdown, the stories of believers of different faiths coming together, appreciating each other, and drawing strength from their respective religions has been heartening. The mosques broadcasting the adhan have said that while they have received some Islamophobia-filled comments, the overwhelming feedback has been positive.
As one local resident told me: "I live in the borough and think it's a positive step. I can hear the azaan [sic] and stop to admire its beauty. Given the absence of mosques, especially for taraweeh, I am glad steps have been taken to help Muslims feel that connection to their places of worship during Ramadan."

A worldwide day of prayer for people of all faiths has been organised for today, May 14th. It has been called for by the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity, an international religious community based in the UAE, formed during Pope Francis's visit to Abu Dhabi last year.
Pope Francis called on "believers of all faiths" to unite in the day of fasting and prayer to ask "God to help humankind overcome the coronavirus pandemic."
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai tweeted about the day: "However our efforts play out, we need God's grace and mercy."
One of the Pope's aides has nailed the heart of the interfaith contribution in navigating the current situation. "Faith unites, not divides." Monsignor Yoannis Lahzi Gaid, a priest from Egypt and a member of the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity added: "It will be the first time that all humanity has united for a single goal: to pray together, each according to their faith." 
Part of the prayers will be dedicated to scientists working to find a vaccine against the disease. The global faith leadership across religions has backed science and human safety right from the start, closing its institutions on the expert advice of scientists.

This ought to be remembered and create a shift in thinking about establishment religions. Of course there have been religious groups across all faiths who have opposed shutdown, and even gone as far as to dispute the science, saying that their faith will protect them.

But credit is due to the institutions who have held firm on lockdown.
The interfaith movement should draw strength from the fact that they have found common cause in upholding science and in protecting human life even in the face of intense criticism from their own congregations.  
This sameness despite difference has also made clear that the underpinnings of all faiths are consistent, no matter your religion.

The sanctity of human life, the power of prayer, the importance of human endeavour to solve problems all the while relying on God have become even more apparent during this crisis, and should be taken as firm foundations for the power and potential impact of interfaith work in the future.
There has been undoubted loss for believers over the last few weeks in terms of religious practice. Death of course is the most sombre.

In terms of religious practice, the festivals of Easter, Passover, Baisakhi and Ramadan, to name just a few have lacked the togetherness and congregation that define them. But the interfaith work like today's Day of Prayer may be the silver lining of that loss, bringing believers together in a much bigger way beyond the confines of their own religion.
It is seeing these similarities across faiths that is most powerful. When I asked if people who are not Muslim enjoyed hearing the adhan, one respondent said "I've always liked it," he said. "It isn't that different to the church bells I hear daily. Medieval Jewish culture had something similar: schulklopferen, who would knock at your door!"

The lens of interfaith worship during this pandemic has harnessed the power to show us we are may be different, but ultimately we are the same.

Shelina Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World

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