Friday prayers, Jumu’ah Khutbah, are communal prayers within Islam. At the Islamic Center of the Triad (ICT), over 250 men and women come to pray together each week. I made arrangements to attend this past Friday through Badi Ali, the president of the ICT.
As I drove towards the road that the Masjed is on (Masjed means the place of prayer, Badi told me), a police car with blue lights flashing sat at the intersection. I immediate worried that the road was blocked off, but, to my relief, he was only directing traffic along with other volunteers from the center. I turned away from the ICT and parked a good walking distance away. There was a constant flux of men walking towards the center, so I added myself to their number. One of the men directing traffic greeted me with “As-Salaam Alaikum,” to which I only smiled. I didn’t quite catch what he said, but after hearing it dozens of times, I picked it up. It is the way Muslims greet one another – “peace be upon you” – and reflects the positive use of language as Allah gave to man.
I was actually a little confused about the location because the website showed an image of the mosque that the center was raising funds to complete construction on. What I saw was a large warehouse building with a roll-up garage door in the center, wide open to those coming in. I stepped in and noticed men in the distant corner already sitting, but many more were coming in and out of a bathroom to my left where ritual washing, wudu, was taking place. Wudu involves three washings of the hands, arms, face and head, mouth, nose, and feet. I stepped over to the right and placed my shoes on one of the large wooden shelves, as I suspected I would need to do before I arrived. I spotted a young man who entered when I did and so I crossed my fingers that he spoke English, which he did good enough. I explained what I was there for and that I needed to find Badi. He asked me to sit while he did his wudu and then he went to get Badi for me.
As I sat facing the entrance, I watched many men enter and shake hands with as many other men as they encountered. Behind me was a large poster of the mosque they were funding to build. It said “Whoever builds a mosque for Allah, then Allah will build for him a house like it in Paradise.” To my left, at the entrance to the main prayer room (I was in the overflow area), was a large box with openings for giving to ICT. I was struck by a large box on top of a room to my far left. The closer I looked, it appeared to be shaped like a coffin and had “GAZA” painted on it. As I continued to look around the room, wondering how out of place I was, in walked Badi.
He shook my hand and I walked with him to the shoe rack. While he was taking his shoes off, he told me if I prayed, I could sit with him. I told him I didn’t know how to do it correctly, but he simply said that I could just follow him. We walked into the prayer room and I finally understood why the men were sitting the way they were. The carpet had distinctive lines, about six or more inches wide, that point towards Mecca. I sat down next to Badi on one of these lines. The young man who helped find Badi for me was immediately in front of me. Badi pulled out his phone and opened his Quran app and told me that the readings were from Surah Al-Kahf that day. But barely a few seconds had passed and he said that he must be quiet now. If fact, the quiet, reverent attitude is what stood out to me the most. I had never been in such a large crowd and experienced such a silence.
A man in the crowd stood up and gave a call to prayer. As he did so, an African man came to the front and took his place to read from the Quran, I cannot remember what country Badi said he originated from. That is the second thing that struck me. There were so many different countries and races represented in that room together. It was a beautiful site to see so much diversity joined together. Arabic filled the air as the man began reading. It felt like it went on for a long time, but it may have just been my legs getting uncomfortable. We were all sitting cross-legged and adjusted as we needed to. Inside, I was feeling quite timid. I did not want to do anything that may viewed as offensive, so I tried to stay still. When that man finished reading, a young Middle Eastern man stood up and gave a brief message in English on generosity. Then there was more reading by the former man in Arabic.
Then came the moment I was most nervous about – the bowing. Everyone stood up and my heart began to race. I am a middle-class, white, American, Christian-raised male. There were certain misconceptions I knew about and tried to push from my mind, but I was afraid I would mess up and offend someone. There was a calling out in Arabic and a response. I wasn’t sure what was just said, but I tried to imitate the sound. Another call in Arabic and everyone reached down and put their hands on their knees, this is called ruku. As we held our position, silence rang out. There was a call again and we stood erect. I wondered if the women on the other side of the wall were doing the same thing we were. Another call and everyone shifted to the floor into the sujud bowing position. Silence again. Then another call and we all stood up. This was repeated; the silence during the prayer was only broken once by an interrupting phone, promptly silenced. Then, the service was over with some concluding announcements.
Badi told me he wanted to introduce me to some people. “Some” is the wrong word. He introduced me to so many people, I thought I was in a political campaign. There were men from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, and several other countries and they all greeted each other with smiles, laughter, and occasional hugs. I then rode with Badi to a nearby Dunkin Donuts where he bought me a coffee and doughnut. We sat with two men from ICT we happened to meet there and discussed a variety of topics. The most intriguing to me was the discussion of Jannah, heaven. Two more men joined us as we talked. After nearly an hour, it was time to leave. Badi drove me back to my car at the Center. On the way we discussed the administration of ICT, the safety concerns Badi had for his people (thus, the police that stayed on site), and the message he will be bringing this coming Friday on the use of bad language.
I cannot say that everyone I met made me feel comfortable (some looked rich and powerful), but the majority did. I now understand why Muslims say Islam is a religion of peace. I am thankful for the experience and look forward to visiting Badi again when they inaugurate their new mosque.