I was first introduced to the call to prayer twenty years ago.  Back then it didn’t ignite my brain to wonder if the NSA was listening nor did it trigger memories of terror.  After that brief introduction elements of Islamic spiritual practice embedded themselves into my life.  I observed and revered from a distance mostly, the sidelines were good enough for me. I never really understood it and I never tried.  But I consistently observed that many of the words and rituals had similarity to my own Buddhist practice.

As decades condensed and the American interpretation of Islam became shaped by the actions of a fraction of a percent of the people practicing this faith I did not find it harder to see the beauty in it and I knew how wrong it was as people began to judge a book by a single word.  When people in my own community died, I thought then I might finally succumb to misconceived judgements.  But that didn’t happen, it couldn’t happen.

I’ve been too exposed.

I’ve had my own direct experience.

I have walked middle eastern streets and sat with shopkeepers.

I’ve remained open and willing to learn, see, feel and be with someone not like me.

I’ve recognized the beautiful similarities, the common humanity in all us.

I know first hand what judgment and hate feels like for those of us who don’t fit in.

My longtime friend Joy lives in a spiritual community.  She’s mostly to blame for my open mind and deep belief that we’re all the same.  I’ve witnessed her life over 25 years as she’s practiced this “radical” faith and I’ve observed a life of unconditional love, devotional service to all people and the most sincere inner exploration possible.

I’ll let her explain perfectly what this faith has meant to her, the Islam she knows and loves and the Islam she’s taught me to fully respect:

As the month of Ramadan draws to a close, I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be human. I have the incredible good fortune to be part of an intentional spiritual community. I recognize that I need the company of others, the guidance of our Teacher, the constant reminder that worship becomes meaningful in the world when I stretch to do the most loving thing I can do in every moment, every encounter.

We gather together every night to pray, laugh, eat and comb the Scriptures to talk about how to be better people. We serve each other, support each other and discuss where we are holding back. Each day, every hunger pang or thirsty thought turned to the appreciation of God, to the abundance and benevolence that we are privileged to share.

We work to confront the hardened parts inside; the judgment, the rejection of “other”, the violence that being self consumed demands to stay righteously ME. I’m being taught that unless I constantly dig, expose and polish away these pointed barbs inside me, they’ll eat up my heart and kill what makes me human. It might seem like a long way from a snotty, judgmental comment to gun toting insanity, but we learn that it’s the same road. The hideous map of I, me, mine that justifies every injustice, certifies every fear and kills anything that doesn’t fit the personal agenda.

Every night, as I listen to the call to prayer that moves us into the next day, I hear a call to come back, come home, come to the heartfelt, compassionate being that I know God intends me to be. Practice love, practice serving, practice generosity and balance. Be awake, be aware, be real. Be a grateful human being. Let go into the most loving thing I can do, one step at a time. And know I’m not alone. The shining faces of my brothers and sisters show me that, without a doubt, we are all in this together.

And together means everybody. Every human being on the planet. If you’re here, you qualify for love, compassion and a helping hand. That’s our practice.That’s Ramadan. That’s the Islam I know and love.