Note From Jon


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Air Jumpshot Prayer

This morning I had the opportunity to visit the ADAMS Mosque in Sterling with the Middle East Engagement Forum. We got a tour of the Mosque which is styled as a community center rather than in the traditional Mosque architecture, to the point where the main prayer room is a basketball court except when carpets are rolled out for Friday prayer. Both men and women pray in the same room and the mosque serves Sunni and Shia Muslims. There is a motorized partition in the room which was originally intended as a divider between the men and womens' side of the room during prayer but the women rejected this. Cubicle partitions were next suggested but this was also rejected by the women. Finally it was agreed that the partitions would be short wooden fence sections with lattice work (exactly the same lattice that is on our deck).

The Imam of the Mosque, Mohamed Magid, took the time to meet with us for nearly two hours to answer our questions about Islam. A great deal was covered but some of the more interesting points were the high level contacts between the Imam and senior government officials. He discussed having meetings with the President, Secretary of State Powell and Rice, and the FBI Director among others in the years since September 11th. This raised another point which was the wide variety of roles that an Imam such as Imam Magid plays. In addition to the traditional role of leading prayers, he is also the main PR and media contact for the Mosque, provides counseling services, matrimonial services, attends conferences and works on interfaith initiatives.

A couple of points that Imam Magid stressed were the need for interfaith initiatives and to always talk to those who hate you, not just those who love you. He stated that any reform or reinterpretation of Islam needed to come from within and couldn't be prodded from outside by the West. He was frustrated with the media for emphasizing the sectarian terminology in their reports (e.g. "Sunni insurgents" and "Shia Militia"). He did raise the identical point to one raised by Thomas Friedman at an earlier lecture which was: Where was the outrage in the Muslim world against the beheading of a hostage in the name of Islam? He pointed out that this was a much greater affront to Islam than the Danish cartoons which were demonstrated against vehemently.

After the discussion with the Imam we had the opportunity to witness the afternoon prayer (zuhr). I sat to the side of the men's prayer area and was able to watch the prayer. Azim, the Muslim in our group explained how the prayers work. The zuhr prayer is a silent prayer except for the call to change positions (between standing, bowed head, kneeling and fully prostrate). At the zuhr prayer the prostrations are done 4 times. The number of the times prayers are done is apparently extremely important and even when you do non-obligitory prayers before or after the actual call to prayer they must be done in specific numbers.

During the zuhr, each person is mentally reciting their own selection of a section of the Qur'an. Speaking God's words to God. They must have memorized their prayer and that and only that is what they should be praying. It is not an informal silent prayer like I am used to which I found interesting. What was informal however was the dress people were wearing (a majority were in there shorts and tanktops that they had been playing basketball in and several had ball caps on) and the number of people who came late and joined partway through or even almost at the end of the prayer. The most memorable moment of the day for me came as a young boy who had been downstairs playing basketball came into the room and walked to join the prayer line. Partway across the floor, he paused, spun around, and pretended to make a jump shot into the air before spinning back around, stepping into place and beginning the solemn prostrations. This informality was juxtaposed again though by the fact that once the prayer was done, each person who had come in late continued through the prayer from the beginning to the point where they came in even as the rest of the congregation (if that word applies) left. It was critical that the latecomers had to complete the full 4 prostrations.

No comments: