Over the weekend I attended a celebration for the Birth of Muhammad with a Muslim friend (a former neighbor) and his family. There was nothing unusual about this for a Baha’i. We consort with the followers of all religions. We frequently support interfaith activities. We invite our friends to Baha’i holy day observances, core activities and other Baha’i-sponsored events. And on occasion they reciprocate. We believe that there is only one God. We believe in progressive revelation. We even believe that at its heart all religion is one. So it was quite easy to share their joy about the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon Him. What was unusual for me in attending this celebration was that the program was organized by and consisted entirely of Muslims who were immigrants from the horn of Africa (i.e., mostly Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia) and was conducted largely in Arabic and Amharic. I was the only “African brother 400 years removed” among the 100 or so men, women and children in attendance.
One of the things that I found particularly interesting as an observer at that ceremony was the extent to which the cultural DNA evident in that celebration can still be seen so readily in 21st Century African American behavior and institutions. In both instances, when moved by the spirit, the celebrants move! For example, song and movement played a huge part in the ceremony. Poems were recited. There was lots of clapping and dancing. Lots of rhythm and drums. Lots of call and response. In other words, there were many features you would recognize in your African Methodist Episcopal Church, your predominately African American Baptist Church, or your Nation of Islam celebration. It reminds me of the old saying, “You can take the boy out of the continent, but you can’t take the continent out of the boy.” (I think that’s an old saying.)