It was natural that I would look for a mosque close by for social interaction with people of the same faith as mine. To me, a mosque was not just a place for worship, but rather a social hang out as well. When I started to go back to my religion, sort of a born again mulsim, I chose the mosque that was closest to my home. I was still single back then. The grand mosque of Cleveland was my choice. It was the biggest mosque in north east ohio. It was well designed and very clean. The community was almost split half and half between arabs and non-arabs. Most of the arabs were from Palestinian origins. It was natural since the Arabic community was mainly Palestinians in Cleveland.
In the beginning, I would go to the mosque on weekends (and Friday prayer) especially in Ramadan. Many families would cook home cooking food and bring to the mosque for those who don’t have access to such food (like students). It was fun where we would eat then maybe sit down and talk about islam or any social issue that relates to the community. However, it was not always healthy environment. The arab muslim community still have racist behavior against non-arabs (like Pakistanis…etc). But most notable, was the racism against blacks. It was kind of silly (and sad) when you hear comments like “abeed” which means slaves in English. This was a common term used by arab muslims when referring to black muslims. It was also disturbing when the Islamic school charges high fees for tuitions where poor black muslims couldn’t afford it. And when the Eid calibrations happens, and the community decides on an activity for the Eid, they choose an activity where the fees are $50 per person. Hence, rarely you could find black muslim family attending such celebration. Was it intentionally organized? Maybe, but I do recall hearn some arab muslims saying that they won’t allow their kids to attend a celebration where blacks go too. Things that make you wonder how some think.
Then there is this power struggle inside the mosque between arabs and non-arabs. Ultimately, a group of arabs decided to start their own mosque, and they did. It was about 15 miles away and you would rarely see non-arabs there. It was too obvious. Some blacks too aligned themselves with mosques in the east side of Cleveland where most of the African American community live. Such struggle also affected the decision as to when announce important dates like Eid or Ramadan. I remember one year in the early 2000’s when the muslim community started fasting on 3 different days.
Sometimes, visiting the mosque was a challenge. A challenge to restrain yourself from reacting to the ignorance. One day, a friend of mind wanted to invite others for food in the grand mosque because his wife just gave birth to a baby girl. So I went there. I sat outside with group of people who talked only about business. Suddenly, one took playing cards from his pocket and now they started a game. I was just sitting down watching in internal anger. Then, the prayer call started and I went inside for prayer. There were only 20 to 30 people praying. But the faces are not the same as those outside. I then went back outside only to see the majority of the people there are still there playing cards or watching the game. I just wondered how those guys couldn’t at least ptay for 5 minutes then go back and play. Or even try to hide their idiotic behavior by not at leat playing cards on the door of the mosque. It was simply pathetic. To me, it was ok for others not to pray (kind of), but at least don’t exhibit such behavior.
One day, and during the last days of Ramadan, and while the imam was persuading the faithful ones to pay their zakat, an Egyptian man burst in the mosque and lashed out on the imam. This was in the far west side of clevaland in a small town called Lorain. I started going to that mosque after I married and bought a house closer to that area. At any rate, this Egyptian man was angry at the imam for suggesting $10 dollars per person as a zakat to be paid for the poor ones. This man wanted the zakat to be paid as “food of the land”, and not as money because 1400 years ago, that was the norm. The imam was kindly trying to persuade this man that there was a fatwa indeed allowing zakat to be paid as money because some families need milk and medicine instead of a pile of sacks of potatoes. In the end, the Egyptian man screamed at the imam saying ‘I swear by Allah that if given the chance, I will kill you for changing the rule of Allah” and he walked away. The imam was in total silence for what he just saw and heard. Sadly, you may have a community of 100 families, and all it take is just one man to ruin it for all.
To give you another example, I was at school on one Friday, and it was time for prayers. So we went to one room in the library building to attend the prayer. We were about 40 students give or take. While I was sitting down, I saw a Lebanese female student. I know her pretty good. But this is the first time that I se her praying. She was wearing a jeans and a tshirt. As I understood later, this was her first attempt to pray for she was thinking about wearing the veil and starting prayer. So she was dressed in a jeans and a modest veil. Suddenly, our visiting imam (he was either Palestinian or Jordanian..don’t know) looked at her and asked her to leave because she wasn’t dressed for prayer. She asked if she can at least stay and hear the lecture without praying. He became angry and demanded her to leave for her presence in this area was not healthy for others. Suddenly, she started crying and walked out. A group of muslims (including myself) stood up and screamed at the imam for turning away a muslim who is eager to pray, and we walked away and had our own prayer, and included the girl with us and anyone walked out.
Islam in America is very tricky. The imams here don’t get approval for their lectures and hence, are not monitored by any authority that makes sure that the lecture is within Islamic teachings. This becomes very dangerous into turning some people to terrorists, or even causing the wrong “islam” being practiced. Whos to say that a self-imposed imam will abide by the real Islamic teachings? What about his followers? For that reason, mosques became heavily infiltrated by the counter terrorism authorities and personals, and that made it difficult for others to feel secure or safe from either fanatics, or the hands of the FBI that sometimes blindly put people in jails for long period of times.
Today, I go to the mosque close by my work and would pray and leave very soon after fearing any negative interactions. I wish I can join in social activities for the mosque, but with all honesty, it’s very difficult for me to keep my mouth shut upon hearing the different versions of islam depending on who is lecturing or talking. Eid was announced a month ago to be next week Sunday, yet , everyone else is saying it will be Saturday. Who is right? I don’t know, but I’m following Saudi Arabia these days. But before I leave you now, I have to tell you this little story. During one Ramadan, we had 2 vistors from out of town who stopped by for “taraweeh” prayers. At any rate, the imam finished praying the first 6, and he then started reciting some supplications and he was doing it almost like a song or “nasheed”. The two guys stood up, and told him that he is wrong and leading others astray, and declared that his prayer was wrong, and waked out angrily. Maybe his prayers were wrong, and maybe not. But this was no way a way to help someone corrects an action. Anyway, I’ll talk to you tomorrow, and it may be my last chapter in my life, and will go back to normal posts again. For those who are counting, this was chapter 26. I want to make my next chapter about freedom of expression in the united states as I feel so strong about such concept. Let me know what else you wish me to talk about. Have a great holiday and enjoy your time off work/school….etc.
Crazy & random thoughts
7 years ago