A Muslim Goes to Mass

St. Vincent DePaul Church

This article was written by Mohammad Yassin, the Muslim Interfaith Scholar at DePaul. Mohammad serves on the E-Board of DePaul’s Muslim Student Association, United Muslims Moving Ahead (UMMA).

Sunday November 7th, 2010, marked a milestone in my life: my 1st ever Catholic Mass. Thank God I had a buddy like Christina (your fellow Catholic interfaith scholar) with me to ease my first-time butterflies.

The Mass

Walking in from the cold, brisk air of early November and into the St. Vincent DePaul Church was just the beginning. When we opened the tall, wooden doors, the warmth and jubilance of the congregation instantly cuddled us into its arms where the cold couldn’t catch us. Then Christina and I made our way to our seats, the opening hymn concluded, and mass begun.

I was still a bit uneasy because I hadn’t known much about mass. After a mini welcome from Fr. Chris Robinson, a new hymn was sung and I frantically fumbled through the program pamphlet in order to read along. The rest of the evening consisted of beautifully sung hymns and a short sermon from Fr. Chris. Though I was not singing the hymns myself—which would’ve resulted in the elegant hymns sounding like cats scratching on a chalkboard—I followed along in the handy pamphlet provided to everyone. Towards the conclusion of the ceremony, the climax of the evening commenced.

This was the offering of the bread and wine which would become the blood and flesh of Jesus after it was blessed by Fr. Chris. No, I didn’t eat the bread or drink the wine, I had a piece of gum instead. All in all, despite being a complete outsider, I didn’t feel any hostility or “special treatment” whatsoever. It was as if I was attending mass since I was a little schoolboy—only I didn’t know the rituals or hymns.

What I took from it

Being a Muslim, the most conspicuous difference that I construed between Catholic Mass and Muslim Friday Prayer, is that of the hymns. You see, in Friday Prayer, Muslims are taught to be silent and focus on the sermon in order to benefit from it. Contrastingly, in Mass everyone is taught to sing aloud together (even in different languages as to symbolize the unity of Catholicism all over the globe), engage in kneeling prayers, receive the blessed bread and wine, as well as listen to the sermon. In addition, Muslim men and women are separated during Friday Prayer, and in Catholic Mass there is no separation amongst the sexes. Although these differences may seem alarming at first glance, Catholicism and Islam have more in common than meets the eye. Here are some similarities that I discovered between Islam and Catholicism just by attending Mass:

  • The beautification and cleanliness of the sacred establishments
  • The greeting of peace amongst one another
  • The mere fact that congregational worship has a designation to be performed weekly and at a specific timing/day
  • The hymns of the Holy Quran or Holy Bible are both recited in a beautiful sing-song manner and hold underlying messages as well
  • The attribution of God being the Most High (a.k.a Al-A’la in Islamic terms)
  • The manner of prayer in which the hands are raised (palms upward) and then prayer is recited (also known as Duaa in Islamic terms)
  • The collection of donations (be it to the needy, organizations, or the institution itself)
  • The sermon given by the religious leader
  • The concept of an afterlife consisting of Heaven and Hell

Whatever faith you follow (or even if you claim to have no faith), try attending a religiously sanctioned event/ceremony that is different from what you practice or believe. Through your experience, you’ll not only learn more about other faith traditions, but you’ll also discover more about your own faith as well. We have many differences as well as many similarities, but until we can acknowledge both, interfaith is impossible. Thus, it’s important that we open up and engage in the interfaith dialogue of life,   action, experience, and theological exchange.

Originally published in the Winter 2011 Issue of the Interfaith Review