Note: I am doing a short series of postings about a few of the more memorable church services I have witnessed. These entries took place years ago, and they are taken from my private journal.
November 26, 2010 Friday
This afternoon I visited a mosque on Road to Six Flags, near Cooper, in Arlington. I walked in toward the end of their 2:00 prayers. I missed the sermon—they call it a lecture. I walked in and removed my shoes, placing them in a shoe room. I went into the main room where the men were praying. I stood at the back. The mosque is very plain inside, the walls painted white. On each side of the main room there are seven clerestory arch windows, fourteen in all. There was, I think, a balcony above me at the back, for the ladies, I suppose, but I did not see or hear anything from the balcony. The walls are bare. There is a schedule of prayers up front, but no iconography at all. There were 8 rows of about 30 men each. Coming inside, I wondered if I was appropriately dressed. I needn’t have worried. Everyone was dressed as casually as you please. Men and boys were wearing blue jeans. The older men with shirttails in, young with shirttails out. One kid was bowing reverently, in the kneeling position, with his New York Yankees cap firmly fixed backwards on his head, just like he wears it when he is hanging with his buds.
After a round of prayers, where the men stood, then knelt, then bowed, then stood again, just like you see on TV— not everyone stands, by the way, several elderly gents were seated in folding chairs—after the prayers, an imam stood up to plead for donations to help build a “house of Allah” in Katy, Texas, because “people need Allah.” He spent maybe ten minutes calling for donations—can you give $100? $1000? Who can give $500? – and then there was a benediction (I guess—I don’t really know) to end the meeting, and then the men began mingling. A few men continued with their own private prayers, kneeling, then bowing, while others around them visited quietly. For several minutes almost no one paid me the slightest attention. I was just part of the scenery. Then a fellow shook my hand and said his name is Sam, and he told me that I am welcome anytime and if I have any questions just ask. Later, a fellow named Adam introduced himself. Adam went to school in the U.S. but his people came to the U.S. from Palestine, now governed by Hamas. He does not speak any Arabic, but he knows enough to understand the prayers. He reads the Qu’ran in English and offered to get me an easy to read English “interpretation of the meaning” of the Qu’ran. I said I have one, thank you. Adam is a med student at Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine. He introduced me to his brother, but I do not remember the brother’s name. Brother is getting his masters in history of religion at UTA.
We sat in a hall and talked about religion in general. Several young men gathered round us. Apart from Adam and his brother, who were my main interlocutors, the others were quiet. I asked what it takes to become Muslim. Adam assured me that it is very easy—you simply say the Al-Shahada: “There is no god apart from God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” I pointed out that the first part sounds similar to the Jewish Sh’ma. Adam and his brother shrugged and nodded. Brother pointed out that one must truly believe what he is saying, but really it is just between you and God. Adam said, “After that, I always urge people to start praying. Even if you don’t know how, pray anyway, until you learn how.” Adam said that he has been urging the mosque to do more outreach in the community. Brother told me about the importance of reading the Qu’ran and the Hadith.
A young fellow, perhaps a teen, stepped up and introduced himself as Mustafa, and he handed me two wraps, one beef and the other chicken, and a Pepsi. I was surprised and touched by the gift, and I thanked him. I said, “I hope that I am not taking someone’s lunch.” He assured me that I am not. I gave Adam’s brother my email and phone number, and they said they will text me with information about the next dinner-on-the-grounds at the mosque, and that I am welcome to come.
I said to Adam, “I have a lady friend who might be interested in visiting. May I bring her?” Adam answered cheerfully, “She is welcome to come.” Then he pointed to stairs in the foyer. “We have a women’s section in the back, and a kitchen where she can visit with the other women.”
On my way out, I shook hands with the local imam, Abdullah, as he passed by on his way elsewhere. He is from Egypt, a smiling fellow, short and stocky. He said that I am welcome anytime. However, he was not the one who did the pleading for donations today. That fellow was a visiting imam who came up and introduced himself as I exited the building. His name is Aymam. “Ah, very good. Ayman the imam,” said I, always the charmer, and he grinned… sort of. He is genial and a talker, and he urged me to see for myself that Muslims want peace and are working to make better communities. He shook his head and spoke sadly about fearmongering in the media. “It is all about making money for the media. They want to associate everything with us. This house in California, with all the explosives, that has nothing to do with Islam.” He said, “You saw it yourself, in the mosque, there are no weapons, we are not teaching violence. We work, we help in the community, we pay taxes. We want to help people.” I asked, “What do you call the knitted cap on your head?” He grinned and said, “Oh…really, I don’t know…. I guess just a cap.” We shook hands and parted ways. The wraps were very good, even better for being gifts.