A neighbouring church and mosque in Scotland have marked their friendship on Christmas Eve by opening their doors for simultaneous prayers, then sharing food with local people.
Friday 24 December was a holy day for Muslims as well as the night of Christmas, the birth of Christ, for Christians. The prayers were said and a common message shared at 1pm.
St John’s Episcopal Church and the Crown Street mosque in Aberdeen, which share a link corridor, invited local people and traders to attend their respective services, as well as to the social event afterwards.
The Rev Isaac Poobalan, Rector of St John’s, commented: “The essence of both Christian and Muslim faiths, the heart of the matter for me, is hospitality. That’s why, with Christians, the core of our service is communion, a meal shared together. Church should be a place of hospitality and when we lose that, hostility comes in.”
Imam Muhammad Abul Hassan, of Crown Street mosque, agreed. He pointed out that although Muslims do not celebrate Christmas, they honour Jesus as a key prophet of God and recognise his mother, Mary.
Hassan explained: “Based on today’s society, I think it’s very important for different religions to come together and understand each religion as it really is. We have misunderstanding of all kinds of religion and there is extremism but true Muslims look to have a multi-faith dialogue. We have that dialogue to understand the essence of true faith."
He continued: “This is really important because people come from all different backgrounds and faiths and we should try and live with each other and help each other as much as we can.”
Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond welcomed the move in a message of support to the two communities. He wrote: “This is a wonderful example of the different strands of Scotland’s tartan coming together to celebrate both the diversity of our nation and the values we share. I wish the initiative every success.”
Between Christmas and New Year, the church and the mosque will also be holding a fundraising dinner to raise money for a 2,500-bed hospital in Tamil Nadu, South India, reports the Herald Newspaper.
Mr Poobalan said: “Last year we raised £2,500 and each penny goes to help people who can’t afford healthcare."
He added: “When we have the courage to break down the initial barriers, what comes out is quite amazing, how much we share in terms of the essence of faith. That brings joy because we discover we both believe in similar things. There’s no denying there are differences, but what emerges is that the similarities are greater than what is projected. I see more similarities than differences.”