Praying the Al-Fatiha at a Catholic Hospital and The Seven Sleepers

So I’ve done two things blog-worthy today.  And yes I know advent is over, but I’m not done yet…and I hope you aren’t done reading it.  I guess, for me, one month was too short of time to read through, reflect, and dialogue about the Quran. So back to the two blog-worthy things…

One: I read “The Opening” Surah (Al-Fatiha) over the loudspeaker which is broadcast over the entire Catholic hospital.

Two: I began reading the Quran again, after a holiday, work, and travel hiatus.  The Sura, “The Cave,” caught my attention, and I learned that it is a story shared by the Christian and Muslim traditions.  Up to today, I was unaware of this story, also sometimes called “The Seven Sleepers.”

So about reading the Quran over the loudspeaker:  I guess I was just feeling interfaithy today (I like that phrase, feeling interfaithy…maybe there’s a book or blog title in there somewhere).  And I was thinking about the Muslim patients and doctors and nurses and other staff who have listened to countless Judeo-Christian prayers read day after day by the spiritual care department including myself.  I had written that I will read Muslim prayer/scripture over the intercom system in an earlier blog post, but I hadn’t gotten up the courage until tonight.  I was worried about what the Christians would think, after all this is a Catholic hospital.  I was worried about getting complaints, even being reprimanded by my supervisor.  Then I realized that I was letting the fear of an Islamaphobic or anti-anything-other-than-Christian, bigotted reponse stop me from doing my job, from living into my call, as a chaplain of everyone in this hospital.  I have as much of a responsibility to the non-Christians as to the Christians as a member of the Spiritual Care Department of this Catholic hospital.  While this hospital does have Roman Catholic roots and all the Chaplains are Christian, we need to minister to those that are different: Jews, Atheists, Buddhists, Muslims, etc.  

So I went up to the microphone with the Quran in my hand, shaking a little bit as I thought about what I was about to do (partly shaking due to the risk I was taking, partly shaking due to thinking how this might impact a Muslim patient as I read it).  So I read the Al-Fatiha, which is the first Surah of the Quran.  It is recited many times daily by Muslims during their daily prayers.  It was a powerful experience, so much so, that the phone operator, who was listening beside me yelled out, “WOW!” 

I’m not sure if she knew it was from the Quran or not.  She may have just been inspired by the words.  But her “WOW” summed up the experience for me and confirmed the importance of including everyone in the hospital setting.  If we just make that effort to reach out to those that may often be forgotten, to give a voice to the voiceless, or in this case give a prayer to the prayerless, our ministry and effectiveness is broadened and enriched.  Maybe, next time, I will ask a Muslim employee to pray over the intercom to offer a more authentic prayer experience for the patients.  And I’d love to hear other suggestions as well.

After I prayed, I enjoyed my dinner over the 18th Surah, “The Cave.”  It told the story of Seven Men (or possibly less) and a dog falling asleep in a cave for 300 or 309 years (the Christian version says 150-200) and awaking not knowing how long they were asleep, thinking it has only been a day or so.  Mohammad recalled the details of this story and revealed the mysteries therein to prove to the Jewish Elders of Medina and to his followers that he was indeed the prophet of God.  You can read the story below.  I love the inclusion of the dog in the Islamic version, keeping watch at the cave the entire 300 year duration.  But in both versions, this story points to the power of God, the hope of the resurrection, the perseverance of faith, and the truth of revelation.

[18:7] We have adorned everything on earth, in order to test them, and thus distinguish those among them who work righteousness. [18:8] Inevitably, we will wipe out everything on it, leaving it completely barren. [18:9] Why else do you think we are telling you about the people of the cave, and the numbers connected with them? They are among our wondrous signs. [18:10] When the youths took refuge in the cave, they said, “Oh Our Lord, shower us with Your mercy, and bless our affairs with Your guidance.” [18:11] We then sealed their ears in the cave for a predetermined number of years. [18:12] Then we resurrected them to see which of the two parties could count the duration of their stay therein. [18:13] We narrate to you their history truthfully. They were youths who believed in their Lord, and we increased them in their guidance. [18:14] We strengthened their hearts when they stood up and proclaimed: “Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth. We will never worship any other god beside Him. Otherwise, we would be far astray”. [18:15] “Here are our people setting up gods besides Him. If only they could provide any proof to support their stand! Who is more evil than the one who fabricates lies and attributes them to God?” [18:16] [They said to each other:] “Since you wish to avoid them, and their worshiping of other than God, let us take refuge in the cave. May your Lord shower you with His mercy and direct you to the right decision.” [18:17] And you could see the sun when it rose coming from the right side of their cave, and when it set, it shone on them from the left, as they slept in the hollow thereof. This is one of God’s portents. Whomever God guides is the truly guided one, and whomever He sends astray, you will not find for him a guiding teacher. [18:18] You would think that they were awake, when they were in fact asleep. We turned them to the right side and the left side, while their dog stretched his arms in their midst. Had you looked at them, you would have fled from them, stricken with terror. [18:19] When we resurrected them, they asked each other, “How long have you been here?” “We have been here one day or part of the day,” they answered. “Your Lord knows best how long we stayed here, so let us send one of us with this money to the city. Let him fetch the cleanest food, and buy some for us. Let him keep a low profile, and attract no attention.” [18:20] “If they discover you, they will stone you, or force you to revert to their religion, then you can never succeed.” [18:21] We caused them to be discovered, to let everyone know that God’s promise is true, and to remove all doubt concerning the end of the world. The people then disputed among themselves regarding them. Some said, “Let us build a building around them.” Their Lord is the best Knower about them. Those who prevailed said, “We will build a place of worship around them.” [18:22] Some would say, “They were three; their dog being the fourth,” while others would say, “Five; the sixth being their dog,” as they guessed. Others said, “Seven,” and the eighth was their dog. Say, “My Lord is the best Knower of their number.” Only a few knew the correct number. Therefore, do not argue with them; just go along with them. You need not consult anyone about this. [18:23] And do not not say: “I will do this tomorrow”, [18:24] without saying, “if God Wills.” And, if you forget to do this, you must immediately remember your Lord and say, “May my Lord guide me to do better next time.” [18:25] They stayed in their cave three hundred years, increased by nine. [18:26] Say [To them], “God is the best Knower of how long they stayed there.” He knows all secrets in the Heavens and the earth. By His grace you can see; by His grace you can hear. There is none beside Him as Lord and Master, and He never permits any partners to share in His kingship.”


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