Aug 23, 2011 Amanda Wada Uncategorized
Editor’s note: During Ramadan, the Islamic Society of Central New York invites local community organizations to join the Muslim community for the fast-breaking Ramadan meal, Iftar. On Wednesday, Aug. 17, members of InterFaith Works were special guests at the mosque. Contributing writer and ISCNY member Amanda Gormley shared her account of welcoming the neighbors for their first visit to the mosque.
The Islamic Society of Central New York on Comstock Avenue is a source of curiosity for anyone who has seen it. With its tall blue minarets, the mosque stands out against its university setting.
During the lunar month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from just moments before dawn until dusk, when the sun has fallen below the horizon. (Ask any Muslim during the month of Ramadan what time sunset is and we’ll tell you to the exact minute.)
While ISCNY holds a year-round open door policy for guests and visitors, Ramadan offers a unique opportunity to engage with the community. Just after sunset, Muslims pray the sunset prayer and share Iftar, a community meal. Throughout the month of Ramandan, ISCNY invites guests, neighbors and members of local associations to visit the mosque and share a meal with the Muslim community.
Visitors come to the mosque with a sense of curiosity, and a desire to build an understanding of the Muslim community. Men and women dress modestly, and women often wear a scarf over their head (hijab) out of respect for the Islamic tradition of veiling the hair.
Entering the doors of the mosque, guests are ushered to a brightly lit, buzzing community room in the basement. Tables and chairs have been prepared and the smell of Indian food wafts faintly in the air.
Young men from the Muslim community serve as ushers. One boy jokes that he’s not sure which greeting to give the guests: a simple “hello,” or the traditional Islamic greeting, “Salam Alaikum”? He settles for a shy, “welcome, thank you for coming tonight.”
Less than an hour before sunset, guests and hosts chat in small circles while they wait for the program to begin. The Imam, Yaser Alkhooly, soon arrives to lead a question-answer session. He is dressed in a long straight traditional thobe that falls from his neck to his leather sandals. He wears a short-trimmed beard and an inward smile.
Guests are encouraged to ask their questions about Ramadan, Islam or the Muslim community. To protect anonymity and encourage openness, questions are written on index cards and read aloud by a moderator.
“You have many different countries represented in your community. Do you always get along?” one card reads.
The imam grins through a long pause before answering.
“We are human, after all.”
The room chuckles at his restraint.
Visitors are curious about fasting. What if you are unable to fast? Imam Yalkhooly explains that those unable to fast can fulfill the obligation by feeding one needy person for one day to make up for each day he or she is unable to fast.
“For example”, he tells us, “one of the companions of the prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, was very old and could not fast. So at the end of Ramadan, he would cook a feast and invite 30 needy people to his house to eat to make up for the whole month of Ramadan.”
On this night, at exactly 8:06 p.m. the call to pray is recited over a microphone.
“Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar,” it begins. Dates and water are passed around and their sweet crystalline meat is savored equally by those breaking their fast and visitors. “I’d come back just for the dates,” one woman tells her friend.
Guests are invited to observe the sunset prayer, maghrib salah. Women and men file separately from the community room to their respective prayer halls.
Some of the female visitors are curious about the separation of men and woman during the prayer, and ask me about its purpose. I explain that the separation protects modesty.
“After all,” I say, “we are bowing with our rear end in the air. I feel much more comfortable knowing that no one is watching.”
On the way to the prayer hall, we remove our shoes at a mezzanine. I tell a group of women about the day I came from the prayer to find only one shoe!
“I’m from the Buddhist monastery,” says a woman wearing a light blue silk scarf over her blond hair. “We take off our shoes, too, and everyone just throws on whatever shoes they can find to get around. I’ve lost a lot of shoes myself.”
We giggle at the shared experience, and I feel a sense of gratitude that this visitor is willing to offer her story that bridges the gap between two different religious communities.
After the prayer, a large dinner buffet is served and guests and hosts chat casually over their meal before the program’s conclusion.
I am touched by the number of people who have come to the mosque throughout the month of Ramadan. Despite the negative rhetoric so easily found on the topic of Islam, these guests enter the mosque with open minds and a willingness to engage in dialogue that builds a foundation of understanding between their represented community and the Islamic society.
This Islamic Society of Central New York is located at 925 Comstock Ave., in the university area of Syracuse; 471-3645. Guests are welcome and encouraged to visit.