Muslims mourn at an Episcopal church: ‘This is what love looks like,’ in Morristown

Audience outside Morristown's Church of the Redeemer for March 17, 2019, vigil remembering Muslims murdered in New Zealand. Photo by Marion Filler
Audience outside Morristown's Church of the Redeemer for March 17, 2019, vigil remembering Muslims murdered in New Zealand. Photo by Marion Filler
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By Marion Filler

For a few minutes on Sunday, an electrifying, haunting sound emanated from the steps of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Morristown.

An imam sang the word “Allah” at four intervals, each time followed by a whispered recital of chapters from the Koran.

Imam Saffet Cadovic, Muslim chaplain at Drew University, leads prayer for the dead, at Morristown's Church of the Redeemer. To his left are Rector Cynthia Black and Rabbi Ellie Miller, March 17, 2019. Photo by Marion Filler
Imam Saffet Cadovic, Muslim chaplain at Drew University, leads prayer for the dead, at Morristown’s Church of the Redeemer. To his left are Rector Cynthia Black and Rabbi Ellie Miller, March 17, 2019. Photo by Marion Filler

“To God we belong and to God we return,” began the prayer for the dead, led by Imam Saffet Cadovic, Muslim chaplain at Drew University. These words are being uttered by Muslims everywhere in the wake of Friday’s massacre of 50 people at two mosques in New Zealand.

“I imagine this is the first time a Muslim funeral prayer has been heard here,” said Redeemer Rector Cynthia Black.

On a blustery afternoon, three dozen or so people gathered near the entrance to the stone church on South Street for a vigil to oppose anti-Muslin bigotry and show solidarity with victims of the terror attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Later in the day, hundreds participated in a unity walk at a mosque in Boonton.

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“We at Redeemer, sadly, have developed a kind of tradition and opened our doors at these times, so we did it again, except this time I was determined that we be outside so that the imam’s words bless the city of Morristown,” said Black.

Rabbi Ellie Miller, president of the Morris Area Clergy Council, also spoke.

“The connection of our congregations and our faith communities is stronger, despite the hate that seeks to separate and break us apart, here and in all parts of the world,” Cadovic said.

He brought his daughter, Fatima, and nephew Taha Hagag, who read passages from the Koran. Fatima, a 7th grader, would like to create interfaith programs in her mosque, and Taha, an 8th grader, enjoys the Friday sermons and would like to give them himself one day.

Before offering the prayer for the dead, the imam explained it in detail, saying how he would stand with his back to the crowd to face Mecca.

“When the imam was reciting the prayer it was beautiful, and then I started getting really angry. This is such a beautiful service for those who died naturally, but this is not natural,” said Sun-Hwan Spriggs, a native of South Korea who experienced the devastation that followed the war there.

Morristown resident Susan Brown said she came because “I wanted a place to put my feelings.”

Black also remembered victims of shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and the Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C.

“But this is what love looks like,” she said, thanking the crowd for attending the vigil. “What I know is that as long as good people do or say nothing, acts of violence continue.”

Christians bear an enormous responsibility, continued Black, who has family in Christchurch.

“We cannot sit idly by while these atrocities are committed in our name, or under an umbrella that assumes Christian superiority. Together…people of all faiths must build an inclusive, loving world view united in one belief: We are all God’s children. And we all belong.”

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