By Mary Watt
On Friday, I visited the Mosque, the only one in Thurston County. Several of us from Nalanda and Buddhist Peace Fellowship had arranged to come with some other members of the community. The first Friday of every month is open for anyone to visit the Mosque, Masjid Al-Nur of Olympia and Lacey, Islamic Center of Olympia
Our hosts were two, Mustafa Mohamedali. a Muslim man, about 50, who is a lay leader in the Mosque. The Muslim woman, about 30, seemed to be Western. She was dressed in a long skirt and long sleeves with scarves covering her hair. The women in our group were offered scarves to wear if we wanted. We were told it was optional. I think it’s always good to make an effort to meet another on their ground, so to speak, so I took a scarf. I wished I had worn long sleeves, I had ¾ sleeves.
They told us what to expect, males go to the main floor to hear the sermon by the Imam and females and small children walk the steps up to the mezzanine where there are several windows to see the Imam. The Imam told a story and due to hearing loss, I could not quite follow it.
All the Muslim women were dressed in long skirts, long sleeves, scarves covering all their hair. We were all barefoot or with socks. It was kind of warm in the mezzanine and I would not want to be there on a hot day. I’m not sure if they turned on air conditioning, not sure if they even have it.
A couple of little ones, with their mom, were next to me. A young girl, about 12, was dressed like all the Muslim women. A toddler, a girl, wore typical Western clothes and had some little toys to play with. I was impressed that she was not noisy, not running around.
Before we entered the Mosque we were told that we were invited to pray with them if we want. The man told us that at one point we will stand shoulder to shoulder. The idea is that the Devil cannot come in when all people have left no room for him. When we stood shoulder to shoulder it felt like we were all part of something bigger than ourselves.
In the prayers, after the talk by the Imam, the women, along with the men downstairs, would stand, kneel, bring their forehead to the floor, and stand up. From my Theravada Buddhist temple, we bring our palms together to our forehead and then bow our forehead to the floor. We do this three times to give thanks to the Buddha, the Dhamma (teachings of the Buddha), and Sangha (community that supports the practice of Buddhism.) I was totally used to bowing and I felt comfortable with the bowing.
For me personally, it was a very spiritual experience. Muslims have a strong belief of God. They believe God plans everything and even when events are not pleasing to humans, they are meant to be for a reason. I didn’t know what the Muslims were saying in their prayers but it didn’t matter. The energy was of love and compassion and the prayers were beautiful sounding.
After prayers, some left right away, some stayed to see their friends. As a visitor I just wanted to say thank you. I started milling and an older woman sitting in a chair grabbed me and hugged me. She was smiling and so joyful, I could feel her exuberance. A couple other woman determinedly hugged me. They seemed very happy that we, Westerners, came to visit the Mosque and meet Muslims.
We went to the first level where there were refreshments and a giant room with a beautiful carpet. We had not put our shoes on. I noticed the design on the carpet was the shape inside the mosque of the alcove where the Imam was with a microphone and also being videotaped. Also the shape at the entrance to the Mosque.
They told us that Muslim women can do whatever they want to do and it is a false stereotype that Muslim women are under the control of their husbands. They had a couple displays, one was a map where the Muslims who attend this Mosque come from, their home country. Many were from the Middle East and Western Africa. It made me think they have something going here to accept everyone, no matter her ethnicity or country of origin.
We had refreshments, milled around, and talked. Carolyn Roos and I talked to a couple Muslim women (I apologize that I can’t remember their names). We talked about inviting them to see Nalanda. I gave my cell phone number to a young, vocal woman and hope she contacts me. If not, I will go to prayers another day to talk to her. Mustafa told us we were invited to come to prayers any day now and bring our friends.
We sat in a circle for a conversation. As in any large group of people, some were vocal, some just listened. It was truly a dialog of understanding and acceptance. I could not hear everything said but enjoyed the camaraderie.
The community of Muslims were very open and Mustafa led a Question and Answer session at the end of our conversation.
Mustafa told us that family is first for Muslims. I could see that with the children that were there. And a couple holding hands. He said the biggest fear Muslims have is for their children. Mustafa posed the question what would we do if we saw a black child being called the “n” word? I would certainly hope that everyone present would stand with the child and have a teaching moment.
Mustafa posed the question what would we do if we saw a Muslim child being singled out and called a “terrorist”? It struck a chord that as Westerners we need to be more supportive of Muslims in America and call out injustice and wrong behavior when we see it. We also should support organizations and groups that seek to help us understand each other.
If you were not able to come, I strongly urge you to consider coming to a First Friday. I will even go with you, just contact me.