Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Strange True Story

With all this talk about mosques and terror, as if the two are always synonymous, I want to tell you about my visit to a mosque. I am just going to tell you the story and you can draw your own conclusions. I also am not going to try to second guess any and every argument you might want to offer for what you see is “your” side of the issue. I’m just going to tell you a story. It’s my story. Actually it is just one story; I have a lot of them. I have been to a mosque quite a few times and only one time, was a visit to a mosque a bad experience.

We were living in Connecticut. There were several mosques within a half hour drive from us. My husband began to attend one in the largely Hispanic neighborhood near Park Street. The worshippers were a variety of people with a heavy emphasis on African Americans. But there were a little bit of everything, Hispanics, whites, Middle Easterners and South Central Asians. They were cramped. They had little space as they assembled on Friday for their weekly prayer service.

Friday prayer is most comparable to Sunday morning worship. Most people think Muslims are all the same. They are as varied as any group of people. Some are devout, some are not. Some never go to the mosque, some bow at home or in the mosque the required five times a day. Actually, I’ve met very few who actually can keep the prescribed rigors of Islam.

The Imam was an African American man who grew up in Brooklyn. I’d met him outside the mosque and found him very engaging. We’d talk on and on about Brooklyn. That happens when you get people from Brooklyn together. If you are from Brooklyn, you love Brooklyn and always will. You just can’t take the Brooklyn out of a Brooklynite.

As part of my job, I was involved in a Coalition on End-of-Life Care. A group of professionals, but interestingly no clergy, were meeting regularly to talk about the need for quality end-of-life care and what that meant. I offered to be the liaison to the clergy. I met with my own pastor, a Pentecostal, a Methodist and the Imam. They were easily available to me. The Imam said we need this for our people too. We need to be represented in the greater community. He suggested I go to Family Day. I did.

I stood in the back with the women as they prayed. I didn’t bow. It’s not my tradition or religion. Everyone greeted me warmly. Once the prayers were finished there were announcements and recognitions. This was my turn. I was called to the front of the mosque, headscarf in place, to tell them about a focus group. I stood behind their version of a pulpit. They received me warmly. They took my picture along with a star Basketball player from the UCONN Huskies, a politician or two and the Imam. It was going to be in some national publication. Sometimes I wonder how I get in these situations.

Time went on. I saw the Imam from time to time. It was almost time for our wedding anniversary. Somehow, probably from my husband, the Imam found out that I had always wanted to ride in a limousine. I know; it’s silly. But it’s true. This Imam arranged for a Limo to pick us up on a cold rainy evening in February, on our anniversary, to take us out to eat. Earlier that day, we had received flowers congratulating Brother and Sister Lighari on their anniversary.

Now I never would expect any church that I went to do such a thing for us – and none have. So I was totally blown away that this Imam would arrange to do this for us – especially since I was Christian. But here is the most shocking part of this story.

As they were throwing a going away party for my husband particularly, and our family in general, the Imam said this:
We want to thank our Sister Joyce for being here tonight. We want to especially honor her. We honor her because she is a Christian. We thank her for being her tonight and for sharing time with us. It is a great honor to have her with us.
At that, everyone turned to me, smiled, applauded and made me feel embarrassed but welcome and appreciated. No one has ever asked me to convert either. This is not a defense of Islam. This is nothing but a story of what happened to me in a real mosque in the state of Connecticut.

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