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Spotlight Report

Law shares prayers, feast, hope with Muslims

By Scott S. Greenberger, Globe Staff, 11/25/2002

WAYLAND - It was Sunday, and Cardinal Bernard F. Law had come to pray. So, wearing a gold crucifix and a flowing black robe with red trim, Law removed his shoes. Then, as the imam chanted the sunset prayers, the bishop knelt with his forehead just inches from the carpet and offered praise to Allah.

No doubt, Law looked out of place at the Islamic Center of Boston last night - but he didn't feel that way. Law, who participated in the Wayland mosque's Ramadan observance as a gesture of good will, said he felt right at home among the Muslim worshipers.

''Yes, there are differences. But the starting point - and the most important point - is that we believe in one God,'' Law told them. The cardinal did not mention the priest sex abuse scandal, or the possibility of war with Iraq, which he opposes.

Habib Rahman, a 45-year-old attorney who lives in Weston, said he was touched by the cardinal's presence. Like many other worshipers, Rahman complimented Law for being especially forthright in support of Muslims after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

''By being here, he is extending a hand of friendship, and I welcome that,'' Rahman said.

After the prayers, Law shared the iftar, the meal breaking the daily sunrise-to-sunset Ramadan fast. Members of the congregation started with dates - as Mohammed, the prophet and founder of Islam, might have done - then moved on to a feast of salad, chicken, and rice. The families at the Islamic Center hail from about 20 countries, mostly in South Asia and the Middle East, and the food reflected diversity.

During a brief speech after the meal, Law suggested that religious Catholics and Muslims have more in common with each other than they do with ''radical secularists who demand that life be seen without God.''

''I feel very much at home with my fellow fundamentalists here, who are convinced that God must be at the center of our lives,'' Law said.

Law acknowledged that throughout history, zealots from both religions have used their faith as a justification for violence. He expressed hope that scenes such as last night's, in a pluralistic country such as the United States, would be a model for a fractious world.

Javid Malek, a Woburn engineer, said the worshipers at the Islamic Center of Boston, and American Muslims in general, are eager to reach out to non-Muslims at a time when many are feeling especially insecure.

''Even Jerry Falwell, if he decided to come here, we'd probably hold our breath and invite him - or hold our nose and invite him,'' said Malek, referring to Falwell's derogatory remarks about the prophet Mohammed. ''One thing we can't afford is offending anybody. The press we're getting is bad enough.''

This story ran on page B4 of the Boston Globe on 11/25/2002.
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