By Shamsi Ali*
AS a full-time chaplain, I make my rounds daily, visiting patients in the hospital. A few days ago, a nurse informed our Spiritual Care Department that a patient wished to see a chaplain. The details provided included his religious beliefs and affiliations. He was a 76-year-old white American who was identified as an Evangelical Christian.
Accepting the opportunity, I decided to meet him. At first, I was apprehensive, assuming he might be a rigid, fundamentalist Christian who might be unreceptive to my presence. However, while he was indeed staunch in his faith, he was also amicable and welcoming. Upon entering, I greeted him warmly, as taught in our CPE (Certified Pastoral Care Education).
After inquiring about his health, I introduced myself as a Muslim chaplain and an Imam. Seeing his surprise when I mentioned my faith, I watched as he extended his hand, introducing himself as a Christian priest.
Our differences in faith only seemed to spark a deeper connection, opening the door for a rich conversation. He, a Caucasian American Evangelical Christian, and I, an Asian immigrant and devout Muslim, found common ground in our shared belief in God.
Normally the type of conversations we have as Chaplains with the patients are mostly not religious related matters unless the patient specifically asks about it. But with this patient I had to talk a lot about my faith, as he also talked a lot about his faith and how Christianity is the right way.
In a nutshell we had some agreements, but mostly disagreements. We both expressed our opinions with mutual respect and without any tendency of judging or coercing the other to except our opinions or religion. One of the matters that came up in our conversation was about Ibrahim (peace be upon him).
Being the father of many Prophets (abu Al-ambiya) Ibrahim is claimed by all three religions (Islam, Christianity and Judaism). Our conversation then came to a specific issue and that is what was Ibrahim’s religion. He claimed that Ibrahim was of the same faith with Jesus (a Christian).
He tried to build his opinion based on many arguments which mostly I did not understand. I then presented my arguments both from theological and historical grounds. All of the sudden, I recalled watching a lecture by Sheikh Hamzah Yusuf on YouTube quoting the Bible (Genesis 12: 1-3):
“The Lord has said to Abraham: go from your country, your people, your father’s house hold to the land I will show you.
I will make into a great nation, and I will bless you. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all people on earth will be blessed through you”
Based on these chapter (verses) I asked him the following three simple questions:
First, which country did God ask Ibrahim to leave and to where or which land God will show and command him to go?
Second, which nation did Allah made a great one?
Third, do you Christians bless Ibrahim? And which nation does Allah bless because they bless Ibrahim? The Priest looked at me, apparently confused although he tried to find an answer. But I cut him off saying “if you don’t have any answers, I will help you based on our perspective as Muslims. First, the country that God asked Abraham to leave was either Babylon or Jerusalem and the land that God had shown to Abraham was Mecca. Second, the nation that God made great are the nation (Ummah) of Muhammad.
Third, the nation who is blessed by God because they bless (as-solaat) Ibrahim in their prayers and beyond are Muhammad’s nation (Ummah). I then told him that we Muslims say:
“May peace and blessings of God be upon our prophet Muhammad and may peace and blessings of God be upon our prophet Ibrahim”.
And I can assure you sir, this is what God meant in your Bible. The priest seemed taken aback, perhaps unfamiliar with this interpretation or unable to reconcile it with his beliefs. Instead of pressing the matter, I offered a handshake and took my leave, grateful for the meaningful exchange.
Manhattan City, 16 August 2023
* Muslim (Interfaith) Chaplain of NYC health + hospitals