Shalom and Salam

By: Sara Arms

When I was little, I spent my weekends in old wooden pews of Catholic Churches and weekdays at old wooden desks that faced the crucifix hanging in the front of the room above th white board. Until I was 19, my social and educational environment was exclusively Catholic, and while the adult figures in my life were by no means against non-Christian religions, they were not something I was ever exposed to.

In talking to my old classmates post-graduation, we all shared the same anxiety of having been raised and taught in a sheltered environment that, by default, was not able to expose us to the many ways of how other important major religious and cultural groups work.

Now living outside this umbrella environment, learning about the beautiful ways non-Christians live out their spiritual lives has been incredibly healing and educational. Opening up to different subcultures, religions and practices enriches your own

According to Sperling’s Best Places, 63.6 percent of those who live in Rome claim to be religious. 38.8 percent of Romans are Baptist, 5.5 percent are Catholic, 6.7 percent are Methodist and 3.5 percent are Pentecostal. Non-Christian religions, Judaism, rests at .11 percent and those who identify with Islam don’t even register on the charts. These communities, however small, are warm, tight-knit groups of people who enjoy intimate services and have much to offer Rome.

Rodeph Sholom Congregation is a Reform Jewish Church on East 1st St. Before you walk through the large wood double-doors leading into the synagogue, you can hear lively conversation bubbling from inside. Once everyone settles in for Shabbat (the sabbath worship service) the rabbi, a female, begins to read from the Torah which is a large scroll rolled onto an ornate mappah. There are multiple readings from the Torah followed by a sermon.

At Rodeph Sholom Congregation, the readings and the sermon are done on same floor level that the pews are, and this creates an intimate atmosphere because worship happens at eye level rather close to you. Visiting Rabbi, Judith R. Beiner, during her sermon walks up the middle isle and will talk to parishioners, asking them questions, for their thoughts and testimonies. They even discuss memories and experiences they have shared together which shows just how much these people’s personal lives outside the synagogue still interact with one other.

“Rodeph Sholom is an incredibly welcoming place,” said Anthropology professor Dr. Anne Lewinson. “My multi-culti family has been received very warmly, even though we are multi-racial and my husband is Muslim. Individuals may have their disagreements with each other, however we work through things.”

While their services are less regular, they meet weekly even if just to share time together over a meal to talk about faith. Food is a large part their culture and in how they connect with one another and bond. As one convert explained in her conversion testimony during this year’s Yom Kippur service, cooking traditional foods during her conversion helped her commit to the decision of becoming Jewish. Over a cutting board, she and Rabbi Beiner would talk about faith, a tradition that led to her conversion.

The Rome Islamic Center is a small, local community housed in a repurposed commercial property. Like traditional mosques, the Rome Islamic Center is separated by gender. There are separate entrances for men and women, funneling into two different rooms.

Upon walking in, you enter a carpeted room with a white metal shoe rack on the left. As you pass through, you slip your shoes off and put them on the rack. You follow the hallway until you get to where the women worship. It is a simple room with many windows. An oscillating fan purrs in the front corner in the room when you take a seat on the carpet (the custom is to sit on the floor unless it is necessary to sit in a chair). The worship leaders, who are in the men’s section, begin the service which the women can hear through a PA System.

Salat is a peaceful, precise worship. The quiet contemplation shared between the few women that were there was not forced, but a silent, softer connection through meditation and prayer. There are readings from the Qur’an, a sermon then the repetition of prayers concurrent with physical movement (one “unit”). The Muslim community in Rome, while small, welcomes those who are curious about Islam and those who are unfamiliar with the faith.

For Muslims, there are five designated times during the day for prayer, which are called Salat. These prayers happen at dawn, before sunrise, midday, after the sun passes its highest, the late part of the afternoon, just after sunset and between sunset and midnight. They each consist of units of repeated mantras paired with meditative movements. According to worship leader and Berry professor Nadeem Abdul Hamid, for the Rome Islamic community, the majority of these prayers are done at home for convenience with a congregational prayer service traditionally on Friday for the afternoon prayer.

These two minority religions play an important role diversifying a uniformly Christian area—they introduce new ideas and belief systems that, according to the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, help stimulate economic growth, increase aptitude in problem solving and expanding creativity in ways that could potentially promote Rome. Both of these environments were extremely welcoming and I felt warmed by how willing all the people I talked to were about opening up about their faith. Whether reading from the Bible, Torah or Qur’an, we should all work towards knowing our brothers and sisters.

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