“A bright moment in the relationship between Christians and Muslims.” This is the title of an article reported in a New York newspaper in announcing the forthcoming event on 20th May entitled “Our Journey Towards the Excellence of the Human Family” to be held at the Malcolm Shabbaz Mosque in Harlem. It will commemorate the unprecedented pact made between the two leaders – Imam W. D. Mohammed and Chiara Lubich – to work together to promote unity in the human family. In this article, Sharry Silvi gives her eyewitness account of that historic meeting.
‘May 18, 1997. That unforgettable day will remain etched in my soul forever. I was next to Chiara when we walked together into the Malcolm Shabazz Mosque, both wearing our chadors. There was a very big crowd.
Chiara had prepared herself with great care, and I sensed she felt we were about to live a very important moment. While she was talking, the atmosphere in the hall was unbelievable. It was as if she were speaking to a group of people she had known for years.
At the end of the program we walked out of the hall together, and suddenly she took me by my arm. “Come,” she said, “I need you to translate for me.” I followed her into Imam Izak-El M. Pasha’s office, which Imam W. D. Mohammed had just entered.
“Imam Mohammed,” she said, “Let’s make a pact, in the name of the one God, to work unceasingly for peace and for unity.”
Imam Mohammed responded immediately. “This pact is made forever,” he said. “May God be my witness that you are my sister. I am your friend and I will help you always.”
It was such a powerful moment that I could hardly find the words to translate what was being said. A translation, in fact, almost wasn’t needed. They understood one another. They were two great leaders who answered God’s call to bring about a world of peace and love, and they understood that working together would help this to come true.
Imam Mohammed and Chiara Lubich came from two very different cultures and two different religions. They both already knew of each other, but that day they were meeting in person for the first time. The Imam had made a great act of trust in inviting Chiara, but he was certain that she could help his people. And Chiara came with the certainty that together they could further the unity of the world.
When we left that room I attempted to escort Chiara to the small elevator that could bring us down from the third floor of the mosque where we were. But Chiara declined the offer. “Let me walk among these people,” she said. She already loved the followers of Imam W.D.
I have been with Chiara many times on different occasions, yet this time stands out in my soul more than in my mind because of the joy she had in her heart that day. A group of us was with her driving back to Mariapolis Luminosa, and we all commented on this extraordinary event.
Chiara suddenly asked for a pen and paper. She wanted to write to the rest of the Focolare Movement all over the world that something important had taken place that day. She was looking for the right words, and what came to her mind were some of the expressions used by the Gen 3, the young people of the movement, to describe their recent congress: “It was super … it was mega!” It had been a moment of God.
Imam Pasha had done an incredible job in preparing everything for this particular encounter, making the environment that would host it very welcoming; and he has continued to keep this moment alive in the community. Soon the whole group following Imam Mohammed came to know Chiara, whom they called the “blessed lady.”
I remember that whenever I visited the mosque from that day on I had the impression that everyone I met on the street knew about Chiara, knew about what had happened and saw us as her followers. They always asked us how she was, what she was doing, where she was going.
A moment of God. In fact a great moment of God. It doesn’t happen every day, and I feel that we need to do everything possible to continue it through our lives, in order to bring forward the fruits of unity that this encounter has brought about.
Many years have passed and I feel more than ever that the followers of Imam Mohammed are truly my brothers and sisters, and I’m sure that for them we followers of Chiara are also their brothers and sisters.’
By Sharry Silvi