Tuesday, March 07, 2006
In the NY Times online I read a fascinating article about an imam in Brooklyn. His name is Sheik Reda Shata and he is the spiritual leader of the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge. He originally hails from Egypt. He still speaks no English.
I found his life and his story compelling. I found myself really liking him quite a lot, actually. Last night I spoke with a frum friend, she read the article too. She also found him special.
What is interesting are the parallels I found between Muslims and frum Jews. We both have a body of religious law that we live by. We both tend towards modesty, large families, and G-d centered lives. The rabbi/imam carries more weight with us than American law-makers.
The imam has tried to find answers to help his American followers. He strives to be flexible in his interpretation of Islamic law, to meet their needs. He said something about how he considers himself to be like a doctor, not a judge. "Because a judge sentences - a doctor tries to remedy." He said, "Islam is here to make people's lives easier, not harder." How many times have I heard that same line regarding Torah (l'havdil)? He seems to be warm and open minded.
He is trying to introduce new concepts to the Muslim mind, like psychiatric care and domestic violence intervention. He is crossing boundaries that are unheard of in Muslim-dominated lands. He works hard to protect his women congregants, in a manner of modesty and practicality. Some women complained they felt nervous on the subway wearing their head-coverings. He told them they could take them off, if they felt threatened.
But what really touches me is that he has a severely epileptic daughter, a 7 year old named Rawda. I feel so much sadness for this family. His wife can hardly go out of her home, as Rawda seizures so much. No one should suffer like that, especially an innocent child. He holds her in his arms and gives her medicine, saying "Inshallah," - "With G-d's Help."
I want to write him a letter, but it's probably not appropriate. If I could, this is what I would say.
Dear Sheik Shata,
I read the article about you in the NYT and I really enjoyed it. I liked your love and compassion towards your congregants. I like how you strive to be open to their needs as American Muslims.
I am sad for your daughter, Rawda. I am touched how you and your wife work so hard to care for her. I give you a blessing to find the right medicines to help her. May we merit to greet Moshiach immediately, so she may have a complete recovery.
I don't know about the Moshiach part though - that might be too weird to send to an imam. But maybe they believe in that, too.