The first week of February has become a very special date for those people who are believers or interested in knowing more about religion - the UN celebrated the World Interfaith Harmony Week (WIHW). Its objectives are “to promote concord between all people regardless of their faith” and to increase “dialogue among different faiths to enhance mutual understanding, harmony and cooperation”.
Faith is central to Nicaraguan culture. After one and a half months living in this country, I have noticed how strongly rooted Christianity is here. Everyday, the bells of the picturesque church toll an untiring chant calling the parishioners to the daily mass. Regardless of the day, the church is always full of enthusiastic Christians who spend the whole evening praying and singing.
Besides the church itself, Christian presence is found everywhere in Nicaragua. For instance, one day on route to “La Loma”, a quiet and peaceful hill where volunteers go some evenings to relax, I heard a constant and monotonous murmur. I stopped and walked towards the source of the sound, a modest adobe house. It was dark outside. A golden light escaped through the slight gap between the door and the frame illuminating part of the house’s entrance. Full of curiosity, I carefully pushed the door and looked inside. The room I saw was packed with women on an array of plastic chairs. They were devotionally worshiping a cross placed on a rustic handmade altar. The women were praying to the Rosary, a long and monotonic Christian pray based on the repetition of the Lord's Prayer and the Hail Mary. It was beautiful and brought memories from my childhood when my grandma used to do it. Hypnotised, I observed them for at least ten minutes. No one noticed my presence.
Daily life and its spaces are filled with expressions of this widely spread religion. Numerous statues of virgin Marys’ and saints plague the streets and parks, religious music and prayers are broadcasted daily on mainstream radio stations and expressions such as “La sangre de Cristo” meaning “The blood of Christ” in order to express surprise, are part of Nicaraguan everyday language.
Our group, religiously diverse and quite interested in issues concerning faith, thought the WIHW presented the ideal opportunity to enrich our experience as ICS volunteers. Thus, we decided to organise a day in which the international and our fellow national volunteers could learn more about a religion other than Christianity. Islam was chosen. So, last Saturday, the twenty of us split into two minibuses and traveled to the capital, Managua.
The plan was to visit the only mosque in the country and one of the few in Central America. We were all really excited since, except for Rahela and Afraa, none of us had ever visited a mosque before. The long trip was worth it. Upon arrival we were impressed by the external beauty of the building. What we still did not know was that a greater surprised awaited for us inside. (picture at the top of the blog, Imman)
Nasif Abdel, the Imaam in charge, received us. Firstly, he guided us through the different rooms of this recently built temple and explained their use. We discovered the importance of water within a mosque, for water means purification. Every mosque must provide a bathroom where Muslims clean their feet, hands and face before barefootedly entering into the sacred prayer hall. Moreover, we were surprised to learn that mosques possess a separate room in which they shower Muslims’ dead bodies before the final ceremony.
After the tour, we sat around the Imam who passionately explained his religion. I am sure you have heard that Muslims pray 5 five times a day and that they do it facing towards Mecca - their sacred city in Saudi Arabia. But, did you know that every Muslim donates 2.5% of their wealth to charity? Yes, all of them, isn’t that amazing? (picture below showing a man praying).
After his interesting lecture about Islam, Nasif, made a great mistake: he passed the ball to the volunteers. Absolutely excited, we bombarded him with a round of questions that lasted almost 2 hours. We wanted to know about everything: why they dress the way they do, what is Ramadhan and why is it so important, what are the similarities between Christianity and Islam, what is the jihad and so on. Nasif, in a distended demonstration of knowledge, kindly answered all our queries with clarity and erudition, bless him!
As soon as we left the mosque we knew something magical had happened inside. We went there with no expectations, without knowing the man within would make us richer. When we stepped out into the heat of Managua, we were richer in knowledge, richer in tolerance and richer in respect towards the beliefs of others. We all felt inspired and that is something that we will never forget.
Progressio ICS volunteer Carlos Valsquez writes a really interesting blog on faith whilst in Nicaragua