A Time For Peace and Dialogue: MSA and CMSA Hold Interfaith Prayer Session

by Taylor Brethauer & RikkiLynn Shields


The word animosity is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “ill will or resentment tending toward active hostility.” In today’s day and age, we often find it hard to put aside our animosities, due to the fact that we harbor ignorance regarding the “other”– people that don’t look like us, people that don’t eat what we eat, or people that don’t say the same prayers we do.

Manhattan College’s Muslim Student Association (MSA) and Campus Ministry & Social Action (CMSA) held an interfaith prayer session on Nov. 3 at 1 p.m. in the Horan Hall Meditation Room, to take action after a variety of recent events that have been going on locally, along with globally. The overriding question of this prayer session, as stated by Rabea Ali, president of MSA goes as follows: “what can we do to make Manhattan College, Riverdale, New York City and beyond a safe place for Muslims and non-Muslim students alike?”

Manhattan College’s Catholic Chaplain, Father Thomas Franks, and Manhattan College’s Muslim Chaplain Sheikh Samer Alraey notice that there is a common fear within many individuals– we fear that by participating in a prayer that doesn’t directly come from our own faith, we are lessening the value of our faith. However, the most important thought that we should carry with us throughout our everyday lives is to stand together as people of different faiths, to reject any animosity.

“Coming together doesn’t mean to let go of who we are,”  Franks said. “We are here to support each other. We must recognize that we share a heritage, and all come together for God. We come together for what we believe, who we believe, and how we believe it.”

The flyers hung around campus donned the “coexist” logo and encouraged students from all faith backgrounds to attend at the event in the Horan Hall Meditation Room.

Students began gathering at 1 p.m. and discussions were held over donuts and coffee as Alraey waited for the students who regularly come to Jummah prayers before getting started.

He encouraged people to eat food before or after the prayer but not during, stating, “Feed your soul during the prayer, feed your bodies afterwards.”

Alraey welcomed in the familiar students who attend the regularly scheduled Jummah Prayer as they began to set out the ornate rugs the group use to pray on every week. He encouraged all who were not participating in the Jummah prayer to stay seated and reflect in whatever way they wanted to.

The prayer began at 1:39 p.m. with a sermon. In his sermon, Alraey spoke about the names and attributes of God, such as “the compassionate one” as someone to follow in everyone’s day to day lives.

“Beauty, youth, energy, all of the gifts God gives us, we should send out into the world […] God wants us to help as many people as we can. We don’t have to help all people, but the more we help one another, the better,” said Alraey during his sermon.

14 students participated in the prayer with 22 students overall in attendance to participate in the interfaith discussion held after. By 1:55 p.m., Alraey invited Father Tom to speak with the students and their connection in faith.

“It’s important that we find time to gather and pray […and]  important that we recognize past oppression between religions,” said Father Tom. He began to tell a story of a friar who wanted to conjoin Islamic prayer practices with Catholic prayer practices, as a metaphor for what the students were doing then.

“We gather together in the name of one God, together our religions leading all the way back to Abraham,” said Father Tom.

The discussion then turned to the attack in downtown Manhattan this past Tuesday. The attack, carried out by 29-year-old Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, killed eight people and injured eleven after he drove a rented truck into the bike lane.

“[Talking about the Tuesday attack and President Donald J. Trump’s reaction in pushing for the Muslim ban], you cannot take one out of millions […] We must spread a message of love, peace, working together. Politicians want to divide and cultivate fear in gender, religion and pride and that is not what is right,” said Alraey.

Ali commented that although the event was aimed more towards discussing the Muslim ban, it was obvious that what had happened on Tuesday was much more opportune.

As the MSA is a group of inclusion, the timely discussion was a place for students and faculty to voice concerns on how the religion is viewed in relation to terrorist attacks, how President Donald J. Trump is perpetuating islamophobia and the importance of a welcoming and trusting community.

Alraey also mentioned that it is best if students made the most of New York City during their college years because it is a place known to be so open and welcome, especially during a time like this. To him, he saw it as a call to action.

“We are here to support each other. Although we are different faiths, we are not too different. We all have a lot of love, a lot of understanding. We want to spread the message of love and peace not only to Manhattan College or locally but also globally,” said Alraey.

In attendance, there were people representing Project Nur, CMSA and the MSA. From the School of Business, first-year management professor Jolie Terrazas joined in on the conversation to show her appreciation for the event.

Terrazas says she encourages her students to come to these kinds of events in order to “broaden their horizons”, something she had always done in balancing her interest in social justice and business studies.

Students also showed their appreciation for Jummah Prayer and discussions like these, sharing with the group, “to have this space is so important and it allows us to come outside of our comfort zone.”

Alraey then brought up a saying that goes, “No matter how big you are, you can’t cover the sun with your shadow.” The group discussed this in great length, eventually touching upon the idea of immigration, to which Alraey said, “we’re all immigrants if you look back far enough.”

The group then went around the room, sharing their heritage to prove the diversity of even the smallest group of students. Almost every nationality and continent was mentioned in the group of 17 that had remained for the discussion.

The leaders of MSA mentioned after the success of this interfaith session that they were interested in planning new discussions for the future.

The event ended in a prayer from Franks, joining the two religions together as planned. The feeling of solidarity was present as students from all different majors, years, heritage and faiths bowed their heads.

On a final note, as students grabbed more donuts and hot chocolate, shared well wishes and chatted, Alraey said, “leave with the blessing of God for the rest of the day.”