Last Saturday I had an interesting experience. Besides the record setting snowfall in the Chicago area, my husband Mike and I went to our local mosque. Earlier in the week a postcard arrived with an invitation to “Get to know your Muslim neighbors.” Since the local mosque is less than a half mile from our house, we felt it was a good opportunity to live out the second greatest commandment that Jesus speaks of in Mark 12:31, which is “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
We knew the event was listed as 12:15 – 2:00pm. Other than that, we weren’t sure of the format. Certainly we were curious. Who are these women walking around the neighborhood wearing head coverings and why do the men wear beanies and beards? Would the word terrorism be mentioned? Would we be able to get out once we’d gone in? Ok, I didn’t really have that fear. I did wonder if Muslim women would be allowed to talk to me. I had a lot of questions floating around in my brain.
If I’m honest, I went in the door of the mosque a little fearful, not feeling at home, wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. I came out the door smiling and very glad Mike and I attended.
We walked in to the mosque and encountered an extremely warm welcome with people directing us where we needed to go. We were pointed to the basement where we checked in at the RSVP desk where, again, we were warmly welcomed and lauded for braving the snow and cold. We entered a large room, like a fellowship hall, where tables and chairs were set up and where, in the back of the room, displays with information about Muslim faith and practice were set up. Then the Imam invited us to sit down as he explained the order of events. First we would witness Muslim prayers, then come back to the fellowship area for an explanation of what we’d seen, then lunch, then a speaker, and then time for Q & A.
Personally, I found it fascinating to see all the different prayer postures. The prayer session didn’t look at all like the TV version I’d seen on my favorite crime drama. Men and Women were in separate spaces, but in the same room where they could see each other. I was in the balcony with the women and Mike on the main floor with the men, but I could see him.
Then the meal! Hummus, pita bread, cucumber and tomato salad with delicious greek yogurt dressing, chicken and rice, and falafel! I ate heartily thinking of my trips to Israel where we ate the exact same menu many times. The desserts were equally good. Some kinds of pistachio and cashew and honey and baklava looking pastries. I wanted to take several home with me for later, but decided stuffing my purse wasn’t appropriate.
Next was a speaker that reminded me of a typical preacher, only muslim. He went through the basic beliefs of Islam. I remember thinking that these are people just like me, living in my neighborhood, going to work, raising families, they just believe differently. They are equally appalled at the terrorism happening around the globe. I had one Muslim woman say to me, “What the terrorists are doing is sin, that is not true Islam.”
I was surprised how well attended the event was by the neighborhood. We met the local Catholic Priest and one of his Deacons there. Besides my husband, I ran into three others I knew.
All because of a two hour time investment on a snowy Saturday afternoon I’m no longer afraid to engage my Muslim neighbor in conversation, and I won’t be afraid to stop into the mosque to give blood the next time they advertise a blood drive.