Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Mosque Experience

Saturday night I attended an open house at a mosque here in Portland, Oregon.

Before Saturday night, I had only been in contact with Muslims in India. Most memorably in a medical clinic after the tsunami when a village imam (priest) allowed some very sick women and children to come to our jungle clinic.

I remember feeling so very sorry for these ladies, scared to death and dressed head to toe in their black jilbabs accented with wool mittens and socks. Nothing showed but their eyes. And it was 115 degrees in the blaring sun.

After some pantomiming, they let down their veils and we shared
pleasantries and took photos before proceeding with the examinations.

It was an uncomfortable encounter at first, but I soon realized that they
were moms just like me and they would do anything to heal their sick
children - including allowing Christians to help them. That experience
piqued my curiosity about this mysterious faith.

I had read articles about witnessing to and praying for the Muslim
world, but I didn't even know a Muslim! How could I reach them if I didn't
know any?

Last week I received an invitation to an inter-faith open house at a local
mosque. I have to admit, I was a little nervous to go. I wasn't sure what
I was exposing myself to but I went - prayed up and ready to learn.

The members of this congregation are Suni. We were allowed to sit on
chairs in the main service with the men taking their position on the floor. We quietly observed their sincere and ritualistic worship.

The women of their congregation remained in their curtained off area
behind us.

There was a reading from the Qu'ran and a male member of the
mosque gave a talk on a Muslim's obligation to serve his fellow man. He
told personal stories of the sacrifices his family has made in Pakistan in
order to serve Allah and reach hurting people.

As I looked around the room, I realized the severity of my own
stereotyping of what I thought a Muslim looked like. Although there were
many in the room that had the traditional dark skin and manicured facial
hair, there were also blonde-haired, blue-eyed, white as me Caucasians -
including the imam (priest)! I'm really exposing my ignorance here - but that was
eye-opening for me!

After the service we were invited to "open the fast" as they have been
observing Ramadan. We shared an excellent meal (reminded me a lot of
Indian food) and good conversation. At our table we had Christians, Jews
and Muslims who all engaged in an open dialogue about the commonalities
and differences in our faiths.

I learned a lot from the experience. Before last Saturday I could not say
that I personally knew even one Muslim. Now I am on my way to developing
relationship with several. It is, I believe, the start of an exciting

Nest week I am off to India again with an amazing group of ladies! We will be spending a day in Hyderabad where the Muslim population is close to 70%. This time, as I observe them in the mosques, at Charminar, shopping in the markets (which is how I captured the photo above), I go with greater understanding.

Charminar - one of the 7 Wonders of India is a 400 year-old mosque

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