the nikku

reflecting on ESL/EFL and its relation to faith

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Visiting the mosque

Last Thursday we visited a mosque here in Chicago. It was Friday (the
Muslim holy day of the week) and there were over 1,000 people attending
the prayer. We have been talking about seeing people as people first,
and this visit - besides being a much needed education experience - was
an attempt to teach us that lesson.

Our guide was a woman named M. A woman in her seventies from Iowa who
had converted to Islam in the early 1960's although this was not the
norm. I was surprised at the number of Caucasians attending, but mostly
the congregation was African, Indian/Pakistani and Arab.

M. guided us into the meeting room, and we sat in the far back so as to
not disrupt the service. There was separate seating for women, but as
M. and a few other members later told us; the separate seating was more
cultural than religious. I was surprised to see many members come in
much as they do in church, in groups, with children, shaking hands and
even late stragglers. Everyone came in and did their individual prayers
(facing East) after finding a spot. Then there was a sermon - in Arabic
- and then everyone scrunched together towards the front and did the
prayers in unison.

Before entering, you must ceremonially wash your extremities. In Islam,
prayer itself involves many physical forms of sitting, standing,
kneeling, and bowing. After the service, we went upstairs and had a
very candid talk with M. and some other parishioners. One of the men
talked about how when he first came to the USA how he had been an auto
mechanic, and he prayed in the corner of the shop on a piece of
cardboard at the appropriate times of day. Over his shoulder he saw his
supervisor watching him, and he worried what would happen to him for
praying. Later that week he came back to find the corner of the shop
spotless. The supervisor had asked the janitor to clean it for him.
And "that was when I knew that this really is the land of the free."

We talked about rising tensions about being religious in the USA, and
the continuing misrepresentation of our faiths by the media. M. said
tensions against Muslims have been noticeably rising since the late
1970's. She also told a story about people who saw her wearing her
headscarf in public and yelled "go back to your own country!", but they
never stopped to ask her where she is from.

We also talked about our concerns for justice and equity for the poor as
well as the unbelieving. At least in this mosque (and I believe
globally as well), their 'tithe' is figured according to their
abundance, and any member who is poor can come and make a report to a
special committee to prove their poverty and receive funds from the
mosque.

I also met a young man who was into "political rock er, actually more
punk rock". When I had exhausted my conversational knowledge of
underground music, I asked him if his passion for political rock came
from Islam's tradition of justice. "Yeah, it probably helped", was his
reply.

In short, I found a bunch of great people, and we got to know each other
for a little while. And while we may mean slightly different things
when we say "salvation" or "justice" this doesn't mean that we can't
work together towards these goals, or at least be friends.

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