Hawzah News Agency (London, UK) - On Christmas Eve, churches all over the country will welcome into their midnight mass services people who rarely take part in acts of Christian worship but find candlelit carols irresistible.
In the pews of St Alban’s in North Harrow there will be a special group of visitors: about three dozen Muslims from a nearby mosque.
For the past 10 years, worshippers at the Shia Ithna’ashari Community of Middlesex have been attending midnight mass at St Alban’s as a way of meeting their neighbours and taking part in Christmas festivities.
“For us, attending midnight mass is a great chance to participate in an important part of Christmas celebrations and meet people from our local church, many of whom have become our friends,” said Miqdaad Versi, an executive committee member of SICM.
“Ten years ago, this was one of the first times we met, and now it has flourished into a much stronger and long-lasting relationship as we meet regularly, work together and organise joint events.”
The Christmas visits were initiated by young members of the mosque. The executive committee checked with the church that they would be welcome, and every year since up to 50 Muslims have attended the midnight service.
Versi said that most Muslims enjoyed Christmas celebrations and the focus on family. “There are differences in belief, of course, but in the Islamic faith Jesus is revered as a major prophet.”
Each year, the group from the mosque includes some people who have never been inside a church before. “We prepare them before the service, so they know what to expect. It’s up to individuals whether they want to sing carols or go up to the altar to be blessed. Some do, some don’t.”
The mosque also provides volunteers to local churches that provide shelter for homeless people on a rota basis over the festive period.
“We work with churches throughout the year,” said Versi. “They come to us during Ramadan for iftar [the meal that breaks the daily fast], and church leaders have spoken at the mosque.”
Kate Tuckett, the vicar of St Alban’s, said the attendance at midnight mass by members of the mosque was a “really positive sign of friendship”.
She added: “We’re delighted to welcome them. They come in a spirit of respect and their presence reinforces the strong links that have developed between our faith communities. Given the world we live in, anything we can do to foster dialogue and understanding will always be a good thing.”