By Father Stephen Perzan

On Sept. 11 our parish church, St. Helena, marked the beginning of its 40 Hours devotion. Traditionally, this is a time for quiet prayer and reflection before the spanine presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. As I began my hour of prayer I brought with me another holy presence – the Qur’an.

I have always been impressed with the piety and outward practice of those embracing the Islamic faith. One evening while chaplain at St. Gabriel’s Hall, I served in substitute for the local imam, whose car had broken down in traffic. There in a provisional place of prayer — the gym floor – 10 students gathered to perform what was for them customary prayer. As prayer was about to begin a minor dispute arose among them, and as I attempted to intervene I was halted by one of the boys who said, “Father, we will work this out as good Muslims, for we cannot pray until we have set aside our differences and reach peace with one another.” {{more}}

Shortly after that the young men did come to an agreement and cupping their hands to their ears began to pray. As they prayed I could not help but recall a passage in our Christian Scriptures. “Jesus said, ‘If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift'” (Mt. 5:23-24). As a priest, I was humbled by the fact that it was at a Muslim prayer meeting that these words of Jesus were so thoroughly practiced.

My knowledge of the Muslim religion is very nascent and imperfect, but I do remember hearing that there is strong devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus. In the Qur’an there is an entire chapter – the 19th sura (Maryam) – devoted to her. I also remember being taught that Muslims consider the holy words spoken to the prophet Muhammad to be “the presence of God” much the same as we hold our Eucharist. Clutching the Qur’an and gazing at the monstrance made me think how great a dishonor it would be to burn our Eucharist; how great a disgrace it would also be for anyone to burn the Qur’an.

The Qur’an, like the Bible, holds many difficult passages – unexplainable to the uninitiated, but it also holds some beautiful ones for anyone who believes.

“Be they Muslims, Jews, Christians, or Sabaeans, those who believe in God and the Last Day and who do well have their reward with their Lord. They have nothing to fear, and they will not sorrow” (Qur’an: 2:62).

But my favorite is perhaps the most quoted: “If God had so willed, He would have made all of you one community, but He has not done so, so that you may run as if in a race to vie with each other to do good, and in doing good God will settle your disputes” (Qur’an: 5:48.).

I can find agreement with that before the Blessed Sacrament and I believe many others can, too.

Father Perzan is parochial vicar at St. Helena Parish in Philadelphia.