Say a prayer for rain? Check

At in­ter­faith event, peo­ple be­seech many deities for end to the drought

Los Angeles Times - - LOS ANGELES - By Martha Groves martha.groves@latimes.com

Be­dev­iled by drought, Great Plains set­tlers in the early 1890s de­vel­oped a keen in­ter­est in rain­mak­ing.

With funds ap­pro­pri­ated by Congress, Gen. Robert St. Ge­orge Dyren­forth set off gun­pow­der ex­plo­sions in Texas un­der the the­ory that they could trig­ger fric­tion and gen­er­ate nu­clei to pro­duce mois­ture. When his test runs came up dry, dis­il­lu­sioned farm­ers and ranch­ers dubbed him “Gen­eral Dry­hence­forth.”

At a mosque in parched, sunny Chino on Satur­day evening, roughly 500 peo­ple of many faiths and ages gath­ered to try a less con­cus­sive tack to end the Golden State’s fouryear drought.

In­vok­ing the power of prayer, they be­seeched God, Buddha, Al­lah, Yah­weh, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva tomake it rain, al­ready.

“Praise be to Al­lah, the Lord of the Uni­verse, the Com­pas­sion­ate, the Mer­ci­ful, the Master of the Day of Judg­ment,” Imam Mo­hammed Za­farul­lah re­cited in Ara­bic to male con­gre­gants on col­or­ful prayer rugs out­side the Baitul Hameed Mosque, about 40 miles east of Los An­ge­les. “There is no god but Al­lah Who does what He wishes. O Al­lah, Thou art Al­lah, there is no de­ity but Thou, the Rich, while we are the poor. Send down the rain upon us and make what Thou send­est down a strength and sat­is­fac­tion for a time.”

The in­ter­faith Prayer for Rain, spon­sored by the Los An­ge­les chap­ter of the Ah­madiyya Mus­lim Com­mu­nity, had its seed in a Fri­day ser­mon that Dr. Ah­san M. Khan, pres­i­dent of the sect’s Los An­ge­les East chap­ter, heard on a visit to the head­quar­ters mosque in Lon­don. The caliph, Mirza Mas­roor Ah­mad, shared anec­dotes of African vil­lages where peo­ple ac­cepted Is­lam af­ter wit­ness­ing re­sults when the lo­cal imams of­fered the Ara­bic prayer for rain.

When Khan re­turned to South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, he pro­posed that mem­bers of the lo­cal mosque give it a try. Wear­ing a white sheet un­der a blis­ter­ing sun, Za­farul­lah led the mosque’s con­gre­gants in their firstever rain prayer in early May. Inspired, they de­cided to ex­tend an in­vi­ta­tion to other re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions for a col­lec­tive event dur­ing the Mus­lim fast­ing month of Ramadan.

“Prayer for rain is ac­tu­ally com­mon across dif­fer­ent faiths,” said Khan, 38, an oph­thal­mol­o­gist with Kaiser.

Cal­i­for­ni­ans have been pray­ing for rain for a while now. Early last year, the state’s Catholic bish­ops called for di­vine in­ter­ven­tion and asked peo­ple of all faiths to join in prayers for rain as reser­voirs dipped to his­toric lows.

“May God open the heav­ens, and let his mercy rain down upon our fields and moun­tains,” said the prayer com­posed by Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacra­mento.

Not long af­ter, in March 2014 — days af­ter Gov. Jerry Brown de­clared a stated rought emer­gency— the first San Juan In­ter­tribal rain dance was held in San Juan Bautista.

Alas, as bare moun­tain tops and shrink­ing reser­voirs at­test, the pleas of bish­ops and Cal­i­for­nia In­di­ans went unan­swered.

That was no sur­prise to Michael Sher­mer, founder of the Skep­tics So­ci­ety. He dashed cold wa­ter on the whole idea that prayer, no mat­ter how many faiths were in­volved, would make a dif­fer­ence.

“I think it’s ridicu­lous, of course,” he said. “This of­ten hap­pens not only with re­li­gions but also with con men dur­ing droughts in the 19th cen­tury and the Dust Bowl years.”

The Rev. Michael Miller, the priest at St. Mar­garet Mary Church in Chino, was more op­ti­mistic about the power of prayer to bring rain. He said he “was full of grat­i­tude to the imam for call­ing us to­gether” for Satur­day’s cer­e­mony.

He noted that all three of the world’s monothe­is­tic re­li­gions — Ju­daism, Chris­tian­ity and Is­lam— orig­i­nated in the desert. “Wa­ter,” he said, “is im­por­tant bi­o­log­i­cally and spir­i­tu­ally.”

Af­ter the cer­e­mony, the mem­bers of the dif­fer­ent faiths — Mus­lim, Ro­man Catholic, Mor­mon, Bud­dhist, Sikh, Chris­tian Sci­en­tist — ad­journed to a court­yard for a com­mu­nal din­ner.

Joe Si­rard, ame­te­o­rol­o­gist with the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice in Ox­nard, cheered them on in an in­ter­view days be­fore the event.

“I’d rec­om­mend they pray for a strong El Niño this win­ter,” he said. “We need all the help we can get.”

Pho­to­graphs by Rick Loomis Los An­ge­les Times

MO­HAMMED ZA­FARUL­LAH leads a prayer for rain at the Baitul Hameed Mosque in Chino. Af­ter the cer­e­mony, the mem­bers of dif­fer­ent faiths — Mus­lim, Catholic, Mor­mon, Bud­dhist, Sikh, Chris­tian Sci­en­tist — ad­journed to a court­yard for a com­mu­nal din­ner.

THE SUP­PLI­CANTS called on God, Buddha, Al­lah, Yah­weh, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva to make it rain in Cal­i­for­nia.

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