The building came out of nowhere, or so I thought. Though it may just have been startling because I was chatting with my van-mates instead of paying attention to the ride.
Regardless, as I felt myself slide across my seat, I tuned back in to actions of the driver. He was turning…right into a set of iron-wrought gates marking the entrance of a gold topped, subtle-burgundy painted mosque, where several men where entering and a little girl and her father were rushing towards the doors for the first of two annual Eid services.
The little girl was adorable, dressed in bright pink cloth and trying to wrap a matching scarf around her head in the strong Hurricane Sandy breeze that seemed to funnel in the parking lot.
I’m glad I noticed her; because I was reminded to quickly put on my (plain white) scarf as well.
After our two vans dropped us off, Dr. Parvez Ahmed – the man who conducted our Coffee and Conversation on Islam – ushered us in through the informational-poster adorned hallway and into a rotunda where we abandoned our shoes next to the entrance of the alcove where the females were gathered for worship.
I’m not going to lie…being able to wander barefooted onto the rich indigo, red stripped, gold accented carpet of the prayer area was a very comforting feeling. When I was little we had a beige carpet (since it was before tile became popular) – in my house that felt just like it. Plus, it reminded me of my slippers!
Since we were guests we were not expected to participate in the actual prayer, which I admit was a point of nervousness for me as I knew very little of their routine. I was also glad that there were practitioners – elderly or unable to stand with ease – who sat in the row of chairs in front of us, so we weren’t alone. I wanted to give up my seat a couple of times when someone new came in and saw there were no seats open but looked like they wanted a chair…but someone always managed to carry one in from somewhere else.
It was quiet, for the most part, but what I would consider a “comfortable silence”. No one was disturbed by the insistent flow of people who’d enter as the prayer leader gave his sermon on positive attitudes even in the face of adversity, taking their time to go through each of the series of postures before settling down to listen, or when people murmured greetings or guided the behavior of young children.
Even the females positioned behind us reclined on the carpet, sharing smiles, nods and hugs as their friends joined them.
The casual atmosphere a good thing too; the room was packed and then some (there were people watching from outside the doorways) – even though we found out later that there was less people there than usual, since, as a holiday, most people went to a special morning service.
Half of the sermon was done in Arabic, as tradition dictates, and there was some singing in Arabic too. Above us was a vaulted ceiling with enlarged Arabic, gold script on an indigo background. I’ve had very little exposure to the language and was surprised at how melodic it could be! The writing on the ceiling made it even more beautiful, because it made a pleasant visual – seemingly all swirls and dots.
The ceremony itself didn’t take long – not even an hour. Dr. Ahmed came to fetch us after it concluded to lead us – with shoes – back down the hall to his office for reflection.
And it was quite the conversation!
We covered many various aspects of the faith and what we had just witnessed, including, but not limited to, English translation and meaning of the Arabic scripture, reasoning for their prayer mandates and style, and some difference between Christian and Islamic texts – most notably the story of Abraham and his son, whom is Ishmael, rather than Isaac, in their tale, who was to be sacrificed by God’s order. Dr. Ahmed said “This is not just the story of a servant of God. It is the story of people. The story of a father and his son.” In the Qur’an, there are added accounts which tell of the son’s perspective of being told he would be sacrificed and the discussion which ensued between him and his father, filled with the anguish and resolve they shared.
It was encouraging to be able to ask whatever questions were on our mind.
I, myself, asked about the Islamic men and women in U.S. military, which can be said in some cases to be looked upon with some distrust, both by fellow service personnel and the by the people in the foreign countries that they are stationed at.
Interestingly enough, Muslims believe it is there duty to aid and defend their country. It is considered honorable to serve in the U.S. military as much as anyone else. Muhammad, their prophet, “was himself a warrior”.
But that’s not the only way they serve. We were also informed that the Center has a medical facility, staffed by licensed practitioners of the community who donate their time, which enables low-income qualified people of any religion to get the healthcare they need free of charge.
Sadly, we had to leave all too soon, but he did give us his contact information in case we had any questions, and expressed his wish that we would return.
We took this picture in commemoration of the trip!
It wasn’t quite sunset when we returned to school for an open-circle dialog, exploring the effect the trip had on us and our perception of Islam and its followers. It made me happy to know not one of us left and returned the same!