At dinner, Benjamin Greenberg sat on the floor of a Shia mosque in Hialeah Gardens, with plates of food laid out in front of him on a long white sheet of paper. Across from him was Imam Ali Barakat of the Islamic Jaffaria Association, who was also taking part in the meal, which included stewed chicken, rice with vegetables.
Before long the pair were locked into a deep conversation about faith – agreeing with one another that there is more common ground than differences among various traditions.
“Growing up as a Jewish kid in Miami I didn’t have an occasion to go to a mosque,” said Greenberg, the first assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida. “When you do have those opportunities what happens is you realize, even though everybody can keep their own values, their own beliefs, their own customs, their own spiritual or secular ideas – at the end of the day there is so much that is still in common and it’s best to focus on those things that are in common.”
Greenberg’s visit was a part of a series of open houses taking place at three mosques around Miami-Dade County during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which began June 18. The Coalition of South Florida Muslim Organizations says the events are intended to allow people of all faiths to take part in iftar– the breaking of the fast meal– and learn about Islam.
During Ramadan, Muslims refrain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk. The intention is to allow one to focus on prayer, charity, self-discipline, self-improvement and reconnecting spiritually.
At the Islamic Center of Greater Miami, a Sunni mosque in Miami Gardens, last week’s open house had a strong interfaith presence as clergy of different faiths, along with other community leaders, took part.
“It shows that the religion of God is one, and we all worship one God,” said Imam Abdul Hamid Samra, the imam of the Islamic Center of Greater Miami. “We would all like to live in peace and harmony.”
Rev. Priscilla Felisky Whitehead, who formerly served at Church by the Sea in Bal Harbour, said she was happy to take part in the dinner.
“Ramadan is a holy time for Muslims, so it’s a privilege to be invited to share this with them, and see how someone else worships God,” she said
In the wake of nine people killed at a Bible study class at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., earlier this month, topics such as non-violence and tolerance were expressed during both services.
David Skipp, associate director for advancement for Florida International University's School of International and Public Affairs, pointed out that Dylann Roof, the alleged shooter in Charleston, wanted “to spark a race war and cause us to fight against each other.” Rather, he added, “it’s a beautiful testament to the human spirit that the opposite happened.”
Rabbi Rachel Greengrass of Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest echoed the message. Both she and Whitehead wore hijabs, the head covering often worn by Muslim women.
“I hope that we can learn to come together to improve our community, to improve our country and to improve our world, so that despicable acts that come from ignorance and fear no longer plague our country and our community,” Greengrass said.
Barakat touched on the same topics.
“We are all equal under God,” said Barakat. “In my existence I opened my eyes and studied theology and I found that all these heavenly religions — they have a lot more in common than they have differences.”
His words resonated with Elena Puig, 63, who attended the service.
“I like what the imam said – it was what I’ve known to be true that Islam is a peace, loving religion,” said Puig, who was born into a Catholic family and lives in Hialeah Gardens.
Puig said she came to the mosque due to an interest in Middle Eastern culture and the Islamic faith.
“I’ve never been able to really be among Muslim people in this setting,” Puig said. “It’s a new insight of what it is in the religion and what they do.”
Greengrass said she was thankful to take part and smiled as she stood in the back of the mosque watching the Maghrib, an evening prayer, take place at the Islamic Center of Greater Miami.
“There is a lot of love here,” Greengrass said. “It’s beautiful when we come together as a community in a positive way.”
Following the prayer, groups gathered outside for an iftar dinner of chicken kabobs, beef kabobs, rice and salad. It was during the meal that Laura Lee Huttenbach, 32, and Halal Baaj, 21, struck up a conversation regarding fashion, hair trends and faith.
By the end of the night the two women had created a bond, and promised to stay in touch.
“If the whole world were like this, there would be a lot more peace,” said Huttenbach of Miami Beach.
If you go
The next open house during Ramadan will take place at 7:30 p.m. July 7 at the Islamic School of Miami, 11600 SW 147 Ave., Miami. To RSVP email the Coalition of South Florida Muslim organizations at email@example.com, or contact Naveed Anjum at 786-512-3150 or firstname.lastname@example.org. It is recommended for females to wear a long dress and head covering when entering the mosque.