Friday, November 13, 2009

Visit To A Mosque

Today I visited the Islamic Society of Michiana's mosque in South Bend, Indiana for Friday prayers. I was required to go for a class in world religions and, for some time, had planned to visit on this particular Friday . Given the recent Fort Hood shooting, I suspected this would be no ordinary visit.

I entered as a man, who I assume was the imam, had just begun his "English Talk", the equivalent of a sermon. The subject was the Festival of Eid, which commemorates Abraham's sacrifice of his son, that Muslims will soon celebrate. The talk was basically a list of dos and don'ts for celebrating the festival in a way that would bring the worshiper closer to God. For example, actually sacrificing a goat, as opposed to paying to have one sacrificed somewhere else for you, was recommended.

As the Eid talk was winding down I thought that perhaps the speaker would let the Fort Hood incident pass without mention, but it turned out his homily had a part II. For the speaker, the incident was essentially a PR disaster, and he felt that the media, especially Fox News, had used it as an opportunity to present Muslims in a negative way. He recommended community involvement as a way to remedy this problem, suggesting involvement with a soup kitchen or a donation to the Islamic Society of North America's fund for the victims' families. He concluded by reminding his congregation that even though America is humiliating and killing Muslims overseas, America is the place they have chosen to build their children's future, and therefore they need to support America.

Then mentioning his fears of a backlash against Muslims, the speaker invited a worshiper, whom he described as a NRA member and knowledgeable about self-defense, to the podium explain how Muslims can defend themselves if attacked. The man began by describing the tactical capabilities of the various firearms. It eventually became clear that he was concerned about someone trying to carry out a mass shooting similar to the Fort Hood shooting in their Mosque. If this were to happen, he recommended that those farther away from the shooter and able to do so flee and that those closer and not able to flee rush the shooter, "sucker punch" him, and not stop until he is down.

During this self-defense talk several men in the back near where I was sitting began talking among themselves and heckling the man, telling him they had heard enough. When that man was done, another man immediately got behind the podium and made a statement clearly distancing their Islam from the actions of Nidal Hasan and clarifying that Hasan was not following Islam in doing what he did. The men who had been heckling during the self-defense talk, indicated that they supported these statements.

After this it was time for prayers. A man in the front chanted the call to prayer, and then everyone moved forward and stood on the prayer carpet, all facing the same direction. I stood throughout the prayer as a sign of respect.

During the prayer the worshipers bowed lower and lower, until they were totally prostrated, symbolizing total submission to God. The prayer is chanted in a minor key, and the beautiful music gave me a sense of mourning for the Muslim people. It was obvious that this community was dealing with a lot of pain through humiliation brought on them by the oppression of their people overseas and compounded by the horrific actions of one of their own at home. During the prayer I was profoundly moved and prayed that God would reveal his loving character to the Muslim people.

It seems to me that the Muslim community in North America is experiencing what Seventh-day Adventists experienced to a lesser degree during the events caused by David Koresh in 1993, when public exposure of violence and wrongdoing forced our church to face the dark side of our anti-American, apocalyptic teachings. While we quickly pointed out that David Koresh was not currently an Adventist and tried to minimize his connection to our church, the fact remains the he and almost all the adults in his compound were ex-Adventists. Every religion has this dark side, the question is how to deal with it.

It seems to me that the Muslim community in North America needs find a way of expressing a constructive critique of the West that doesn't degenerate into extremism. Community involvement and statements denouncing Hasan are PR band-aids that ignore the real issue of Islam's dark side, extremism. And publicly planing for the very unlikely event of a mass shooting only increases the sense of fear that results in extremism. On the other hand, I doubt that Muslim Americans will have the space to address these issues until the media spotlight currently trained on their community moves on to the next story.

Although I did not appreciate the self-defense talk (I feel that adolescent male fantasies of a heroic charge at a deranged gunman have nothing to do with the worship of God.), I enjoyed my visit to the mosque. Of all the non-Christian worship services I have attended, this was the one where I felt closest to God, probably because there was an extended period of time when I could simply pray. My only regret was that I had to leave soon after the service, and during the time after prayers and before I left no one approached me for conversation.

7 comments:

  1. Sounds like you had a fascinating day. Fear is woven into and through your article. I wonder who can stop the fear, theirs and ours?

    There was a time in the first half of the last century where you felt as safe in any Muslim home as you did in your own home. We are very far from that now.

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  2. I went to mosque last Friday and the imam also addressed the shootings at Fort Hood (sandwiched between exhortations to accept everything as the will of Allah and exhortations to take care of fellow Muslims who were ill). He denounced the shooter and said that it is their duty as Muslims to show the world that this is not what Muslims are like. Though I wasn't sure if there was a non-Muslim man visiting that day, I was the only non-Muslim woman at the service and he didn't know that I was there, so it was an interesting experience to hear what he said rather un-edited.

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  3. I went in 2007, so of course I barely remember anything that was said. What I do remember is that it was aid that muslims in the USA are trying to fit in, so they do things contrary to Islam, like having their kids participate in Halloween, etc. but that does not stop th emedia from [bashing] them. So he was sying that anythign they do to fit in will nto work, so that they should just live as Islam says.

    We did have about 30 minutes discussion with a few people there. Strangely most of the class attended that day. the imam´s wife also showed my wife all the formalities during their service.

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  4. I initiated correspondence with the imam of the mosque, and he gave me permission to post the following email.

    Dear Guest,

    Thanks for your visit to our mosque and for your comments and suggestions. It seems to me that you have presented a very narrow minded and selective perspective in your report. You did not take into consideration the complete picture of what goes on in our congregation. I think if you had given some time for people to approach to you would have been fair to comment on that. You just stepped into the mosque right before the sermon and left as soon as it was finished. Unfortunately we could not have a chance to speak to you. Actually congregation is not supposed to speak during that time. They are suppose to listen to the sermon. However I agree with your comment about talking self defense in front of public and also I appreciate your suggestion for creating a Muslim critique to bring a peaceful change.

    Thank you and God bless you with peace.

    God's Servant

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  5. Very interesting! I'm glad that the imam gave you permission to post that email. I wonder how I would feel if a Muslim came to visit my church and posted reflections about it...

    Interestingly, as I was driving to the mosque the day after the shooting, I was listening to an NPR story about the Muslim response. It was reported that several mosques in the Fort Hood area had received threats and leaders were cautioning American Muslims to take "necessary precautions" against a possible backlash. In the car, I already had my scarf on and I wondered about what people were thinking as they drove past me. It caused me to consider the feelings of uneasiness that Muslims might be experiencing after an incident like this.

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