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Wednesday, April 23 2008 19:00

On the occasion of my first visit ever to a Mosque, two dominant impressions swept over me. First, the strength of the religious piety which I observed during the community prayer and in the talks afterward. And secondly, the warmth of the hospitality shown to me and other visitors.

On entering the building located in Cambridge about a mile from my home, I removed my shoes and placed them in a wooden rack along with many others. Then I entered the large room where the men gather for prayer and fellowship.  

Taking my place at the rear of the room, I sat on the carpet-covered floor and leaned back against the wall. Soon I was offered a fig and a small glass of milk by which the fast of Ramadan is broken. During the time when the 150 or so men were being served, various members of the community came over to shake my hand in greeting.

Then the men lined up in long tightly packed rows across the room, squatting on the floor while leaning on their knees in the standard posture for prayer. During the prayers chanted in Arabic, the worshipers would bend over rhythmically in unison and touch their heads to the floor.

They were an impressive sight, men and boys of varying  ages who performed the bodily movements with remarkable synchronization and a certain ease. Those same movements  would have required a difficult exertion for me; probably I would have been unable to perform them. In any event I remained sitting in place with the wall supporting my weakness.

The next event was the serving of the evening meal. Before the men came around with food, a protective covering was spread over the prayer rug. Then a large plate of appetizing food was given to each person along with various soft drinks.

Men seemed glad to be eating after the day-long fast required by Ramadan. The friendly gentleman sitting next to me, a physician named Khaled Attia, assured me that the fast is much easier to fulfill when the holy month falls in wintertime because daylight lasts a much shorter time.

After dinner, a program planned for the open house segment of the evening began. Brother Hossam ElGabri gave an introduction to Islam which highlighted the Five Pillars of the Faith.

These fundamentals include:

  1. the existence of one God Allah;
  2. belief in all the prophets (including Adam, Abraham, and Jesus);
  3. acceptance of all the inspired books, especially the original version of the Qur’an
  4. the existence of angels
  5. the Day of Judgment.

Next came a short talk by Brother Walid Salam about fasting and its effect on Muslim behavior. Emphasized here was the role of fasting as a spiritual school which teaches Muslims to examine their lives. Deprivation of food, drink, and sexual activity serves as a stop sign calling attention to the spiritual quality of one’s life. The speaker stressed the feeding of the soul as the most important product of fasting.

A couple of other speakers shared with the community personal stories of conversion to Islam from other faiths. Before a question period ended the evening, I was invited to come forward and speak, something I did with pleasure.

In my brief remarks I commented on how moving an experience it was for me to see carried out in real life what I had only read about in books. I also explained how touched I felt, as a Catholic Christian, to be received with such warm hospitality by this Muslim community.

Not once in the course of the evening did I see a woman. Female members of the community were reported to be downstairs going through the same activities as the men. I was told that the microphone was hooked up so as to carry the speeches downstairs.

This first contact with the community helped me understand the roles that the mosque plays in Muslim life. As speakers emphasized, the mosque is not just a place to worship but also where people help one another and build community.

As one leader said, “The mosque is our life meaning.” Also for believers it is a place of healing. Indeed the worshippers present that evening evidenced a strong bond of unity and of mutual acceptance which can well serve as a remedy for the problems which afflict body and soul.

Richard Griffin