“That you may know each other”

Friendship between students of W.D. Mohammed and Chiara Lubich 

Imam Shaheed with Chiara Lubich at the Vatican in 1999

4 min read

The Holy Qu’ran verse 49:13 says “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into Nations and tribes, that ye may know each other.” 

“Therefore if G_d made us into nations and tribes,” explains Resident Imam Michael Mikaal Saahir of the Masjid Nur Allah Islamic Center in Indianapolis, “then nations and tribes are not a bad thing.” Imam Saahir is a student of W.D. Mohammed and a longtime friend of the Focolare.

The friendship shared between Imam W.D. Mohammed and Chiara Lubich and their communities continues today. 

One of the fruits of this friendship is the Muslim version of the Word of Life reflection. Dr. Shahrzad Houshmand Zadeh began this practice, but at some point the Muslim Word of Life ceased—until a few years ago, when Imam Askia Hameed of East St. Louis, IL and Don Mitchell reached out to Imam Saahir, aiming to get the Muslim Word of Life started again.

Imam Saahir and a group of several other Muslim writers then began a regular zoom call to plan a Muslim Word of Life reflection to accompany the Focolare version. Each reflection is “peer reviewed” by several of the other writers to make sure the piece is clear, sensitive, emphasizes unity, and does not water down Muslim teachings.

For Imam Saahir, even though the Word of Life is taken from Christian scripture, it can apply to Muslim teachings. “They are saying really in essence the same thing I’m saying,” said Imam Saahir, “but their words are different. When you boil your prayer down to its nugget, you both have the same nugget. But on the outside, they said it in a way that’s not quite the way I would have said it or the way I believe. But the results are the same.”  

As an example, Imam Saahir discusses how Christians speak about Christ: “When the Christians say ‘Christ nature,’ that is equivalent to the word ‘Muslim,’ because both submit their will to do G _d’s will.” 

“When the Christians say ‘Christ nature,’ that is equivalent to the word ‘Muslim,’ because both submit their will to do G _d’s will.” 

Without criticizing Christian beliefs about Jesus, Imam Saahir has reframed the conversation to talk about what Christians and Muslims have in common.

Even as other commitments come up, Imam Saahir is determined to keep the tradition alive. Each month, the Muslim Word of Life is printed in The Muslim Journal (https://muslimjournal.net) and sent to an email list of approximately 300. From there it is often shared further. People in Nigeria, Germany, Ireland, Rome, and other countries receive the Muslim Word of Life and share it.

“They say bad news travels, but in this case, we’ve got good news traveling!” says Imam Saahir.

Another way the students of W.D. Mohammed remain connected with the Focolare is through interfaith gatherings. From the late nineties to today, these two communities continue to share deep friendships and gather both in large gatherings such as the “Faith Communities Together” meetings and small, informal gatherings. Imam Saahir boasted that members of his community have been meeting regularly with the Focolare at Shapiro’s deli in Indianapolis for 26 years and counting.

Associate Imam Ronald B. Shaheed of the Masjid Ash Shaheed in Charlotte, North Carolina has also enjoyed a close friendship with the Focolare for many years. He hopes to publish a book in the future based on his interviews with many of the original Focolare members. 

Shortly after 9/11, in response to an invitation from the Focolare, Imam W.D. Mohammed sent Imam Shaheed to Germany to participate in an annual gathering of the Focolare youth between the ages of 18-25 from all over Europe for the week. “I have never felt so welcome,” he told Living City. “They just wanted to know what was happening with the Muslims in the United States after 9/11.” Surrounded by young people with such a loving attitude “gave me, as a person of faith, great hope that this could be a picture of what the world could be like one day,” he said.  After praising the Focolare who were present for continuing to live the ideals of unity embraced by W.D. Mohammed and Chiara Lubich, Imam Shaheed received a standing ovation. “It looked like at one point they weren’t going to sit down!” he recalled.

The next morning, he learned that the last time there was a standing ovation at a Focolare gathering in Germany was when Chiara Lubich had gathered Lutherans and Catholics and proposed to form a town of Lutherans and Catholics there.

Quoting the Holy Qu’ran, chapter 2, verse 148, Imam Shaheed says that people of various faiths can encourage each other: “To each is a goal to which G_d turns him; then strive together (as in a race) towards all that is good. Wherever you are, G_d will bring you together. For G_d has power over all things.”

Join the conversation. Send your thoughts to the editor Jon Sweeney.