A few weeks ago was Islam Awareness Week on campus. I went to one of the sessions. I wanted to attend more events but snow interfered. April was one cold mess of snowstorms in Mpls. It continued into this first week of May. Sigh. Anyhoo, I first visited a mosque almost 2 years ago for an Iftar/open house and I’ve wanted to return because I know very, very little about Islam and there’s a lot of Muslims on campus from many different cultures. The professor who spoke at the event I went to on campus said visitors were welcome at any mosque and I could get an English copy of the Koran and ask questions.
I have felt visceral reactions to seeing and hearing Muslim related things at times and I recognize this as conditioning of my own culture. For example, the first time I heard a man singing from the prayer room on campus. I believe this was the adhan (call to prayer) but the first thing that went through my head was movies and tv shows like “24″ where the next thing you’re going to see on the screen is the Middle Eastern bad guys. When I see women wearing the niqab (full face veil) it still kind of freaks me out. I see women in hijabs (head scarf) almost daily but the niqab, not so much. The first time I saw men walking around Minneapolis in traditional attire I associate predominately with “terrorist camps” I was a little freaked. After being here 5 years, it doesn’t faze me so much. Whether I agree with their religious beliefs or not, I think it is important to recognize the prejudices I hold and seek to de-condition myself and understand what it is they believe. I’ve heard and corrected some real doozies about Mormons over the years.
Masjid An-Nur is in north Minneapolis. There’s a lot of mosques in the twin cities and this one is the closest to me, from what I could tell on Google maps. I visited last Wednesday and talked to Arlene, the community outreach director. She said they were out of English Korans and an order was supposed to come that week. Arlene is an African-American woman whose family became Muslims when she was 12. She was Baptist before that. She doesn’t wear a hijab. She wears small scarf tied around her head. I asked about the niqab and she said her take is modesty is a personal decision between you and God. She shrugged and said people will judge no matter what someone is wearing and that’s their own problem. She invited me to come back on Friday for the English jumah (essentially a congregational sermon and prayer) and to pick up a Koran.
On Friday, I went to the jumah and was greeted by some sweet ladies who helped me wrap my scarf I brought and showed me where to leave my shoes before entering the musallah (prayer room, like a chapel). The imam’s talk was primarily about charity and service. All men and women met in the same room. The women were in the back. At the mosque I visited a couple years ago, the women were in a separate room entirely and remained separated after prayers for the meal. I later learned that one was a Shiite mosque. I’m not sure if that’s the reason for the separation or not. The reason for the women being in back is a modesty thing during the prayers as your read end is up in the air. I did not participate in the prayer but I did get a brochure which shows what is being said in the prayers and the body positions for each part. The majority of people were African or African-American. After the talk and prayers, the imam took people to task for lousy parking in the lot. “The lines are there for a reason!”
After the jumah, I went to the basement for a lunch one can buy to eat there or take home. As I sat there eating I looked to my left and saw stacks of boxes with the LDS church logo on them. I don’t know if it is stuff the mosque orders for its food bank distribution days or for cheap supplies or what but it cracked me up. You can run but you can’t hide. Mormons are everywhere. LOL