During all the years I have lived in the US, I have taken pains to learn about the people who have so kindly let me live my life here. I pay attention to their traditions and participate whenever I am honored with an invitation. I think a good host deserves a good guest. I don’t know of very many other places in this world were you could immigrate, and be able to blend in, live, learn, work, and enjoy your life, and at the same time be able to enjoy your own identity, your own traditions, and your own beliefs.
My co-worker, Mary Ann’s father passed away a few weeks ago. We were invited to two ceremonies memorializing him, one an evening Rosary Service, and another, a memorial service at the Catholic Church the next day. I had every intention of attending both ceremonies to support my friend, and to show my respect for her. I asked another Catholic co-worker to explain to me exactly what is entailed in a Rosary Service. In a short description of the ceremony during a coffee break, I learned that the Catholic Rosary has 30 beads in it, and for each of those beads, a Hail Mary* will be said, and after each ten Hail Mary’s, a “station,” the priest will talk to the audience. I asked her what else I needed to know and do once I was there, and she said “Don’t worry, I’ll be sitting right next to you, and I will tell you what to do.” I arrived at the funeral home at 7:00 p.m. sharp, found my co-workers and went to sit down at one of the pews. The priest came and the ceremony started. I should tell you at this time that as I sat down on the bench, I noticed that my co-worker’s father’s body was put in an open casket at the altar, as is tradition with many Christian families.
I was sitting very close to my friend, copying everything she was doing, exactly as she was doing it and repeating everything she and everyone else said. The deceased was from an Italian American family, and the funeral home hall was filled with many people who had come to partake in the ceremony. The Rosary Service was completed. My friend, who by now was talking to another friend (my boss) who is also a Catholic, got up. I got up. They started walking towards the open casket. As I followed them, I was confused about what to do now, as they hadn’t told me about this step.
We followed the line to the casket. The deceased gentleman, God bless him (khoda biamorz) was dressed up very nicely, and appeared to be sleeping. A beautiful red rosary was wound around his hand. We were standing there and my friends were looking at the deceased respectfully. I stood there too, paying close attention to what they were saying and doing. At this time my two friends started whispering some words together, some type of prayer, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. I was feeling useless and increasingly uncomfortable because obviously I wasn’t doing the right thing, and I didn’t want to appear disrespectful. So I just stood there for a few more seconds, and then I did the only thing that came to my mind. I reached over and put my finger on the side of the casket, and I started to cite a Fateheh for the gentleman. After I finished, because my friends were still whispering their prayer, I also did a Namaze Meyyet (prayer for the deceased) for the man, as best as I could remember it, at the end asking God to forgive this man any sins (though I must say, he looked like a very good old man, sleeping there peacefully and innocently), and to take him to heaven.
As we filed again in the line to leave the funeral home, I told Mary Ann that I had prayed a Moslem prayer for her Catholic father. She was very warm and receptive and thanked me for the prayer, telling me that her father would have appreciated the gesture. I learned two lessons: One, that just as I can’t become a Catholic in 30 minutes, I can’t forget that I was born and raised a Moslem (even though I am not a good Moslem at all). Two, that in certain moments in life, it really doesn’t matter who is Moslem and who is Christian, or of whatever other religion or belief. When a surge of humanity touches us, we all become the same, and we must respond to that humanity in whatever way we know. I truly love living in America, where even at my age, I am continually challenged and exposed to new events and new experiences, from which I learn, and hopefully, I can also teach others. Amen.
* Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.