Saturday, August 7, 2010

Looking for God in All the Wrong Places: My Visits to Non-Christian Places of Worship, Part II

Islamic Education Center

The Islamic Education Center is a mosque located in an office complex, not in a building of its own. Before arriving there, I pictured a grand building like the ones I saw during my stays in the Middle East, so I was a little dismayed by the mosque’s unbecoming appearance. But, a building is just a building and what really matters is what happens on the inside of it.

Inside, I met Dr. Sakr (pronounced like soccer), the leader of this mosque and a very popular and much sought-after defender of the Islamic faith. I was a bit surprised by his appearance; he had much lighter skin color for a Muslim than my limited experience had exposed me to before. Perhaps I was just being stereotypical minded, but I pictured all the Muslims as being on the darker side. When the rooms filled with worshippers, I noticed quite a few light-skinned adherents. I noticed at least three, probably more, obviously Anglo-Americans at the worship service.

Inside the mosque, the floors were carpeted and everyone was required to remove their shoes and sit on the floor. Dr. Sakr was kind enough to provide me with a chair for which my back and knees were very thankful! During the service, the men and women were in separate rooms with the women having a televised view of Dr. Sakr as he delivered his sermon. The women’s heads were covered but not their faces, and they appeared to be equal with the men when everyone was together for the meal. The walls were covered with ornate rugs, especially on the northeast side of the rooms because this is the direction of Mecca from here.

Dr. Sakr and the other Muslims were very accepting of me and they all were very friendly and quick to talk about their faith. The three people I spoke with all asserted that the god of Islam, Allah, is the same God of Christianity. They referred to our common beliefs – creation, Adam and Eve, Moses, Abraham, etc. Of course, even though I believe that Allah is not the God of the Bible, I allowed them to talk freely without trying to debate them. The main points of Islam, I was told, were to follow the five Pillars: believe that there is one god, Allah, and in Mohammad; pray five times a day at appointed times; fast during Ramadan; give alms to the needy; and make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Also, the highest calling is to always seek knowledge.

Each person was also adamant that Islam was a peaceful religion and that those who are violent are not following the Qur’an correctly. They insisted that Muslims, Christians, and Jews could live in harmony with each other. It’s difficult to know who is telling the truth in these matters. One of the men I spoke with told me that he was from Israel, but then later he said he was from Kuwait and fled the country when Iraq invaded. Another man said that he was from Bethlehem and that everyone there was either Muslim or Christian; but when Dr. Sakr made the introductions, I don’t remember him saying that anyone was from Israel.

One of the men I interviewed, Usman Ghani, told me that the only ways for a Muslim to reach Allah was through the five daily prayers, and at the Friday worship service. Plus, he said that Allah does not always hear their prayers. I asked Mr. Ghani why the prayers are in Arabic and not in English since they are in America, he said that prayers are kept in Arabic so that a Muslim will understand them no matter where he is in the world. (To me this is pretty silly, just like the Roman Catholic Church conducting mass in Latin when no one understands it and when Christians who speak normal English suddenly start saying “thee” and “thou” and “art”, etc when they pray, as if God can only understand 400 year English and nothing else!)

Perhaps the majority of Muslims are peaceful people, but the Qur’an does advocate violence against non-Muslims (ex. Surah 5:33 and 9:5), so perhaps it is they who are not truly following their scripture when they deny violence.

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