March 6, 2006

Visiting a Mosque

The following is from an e-mail I received today from MAS-Arizona. The essay is written by a Christian minister who recently visited the Islamic Community Center of Tempe when they held an open house for the community. I'm putting this post up partly because of my pride in this masjid (it was where I first made shahadah), but also because I appreciated this minister's open-mindedness, which shows quite clearly in his writing.

The Minaret of the Islamic Cultural Center of TempeVISITING A MOSQUE
By Tom Compton

My friend Chuck called to ask me if I'd like to go with him to an open house at a mosque in Tempe, AZ. Having never been in a mosque, I thought that it would be an interesting experience but wondered if I would need a bullet proof vest or an assault rifle to protect myself during the visit. After all, haven't we been warned by numerous government and Christian leaders that the Muslims are out to create a holy war against us infidels?

We parked our shoes on the ground floor of the mosque and walked up to the second floor into the prayer and worship room. There were about 50 visitors in attendance plus members of the mosque who filtered in during the open house portion of the service. After the open house, their regular Friday night service would be conducted. It was easy to spot the visitors because they were sitting in chairs. It was explained that during the service and prayer time the flock was either standing, sitting or bowing down on the floor. The men are in the front and the women in the rear with a curtain that could be drawn by the women if they wanted privacy.

The Imam, the Islamic equivalent of a pastor or priest, was giving a Power Point presentation on the fundamental beliefs of Islam. Part way through the presentation, the Imam said that they would break for a brief prayer session and we were invited to observe how this part of their worship is conducted. Muslims are required to pray 5 times a day, this one lasted about 10 minutes. A group of more than a dozen men came to the front to participate in the prayers. The chanting and prayers were in Arabic but there seemed to be a similarity to a Catholic worship service in that both services are composed of ritual elements.

The Imam continued with a discussion on the life of Muhammad and other prophets they recognize and revere: Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Interestingly, the Imam said that they recognized that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary with no earthly father. It seems curious to me that because of Jesus' uniqueness ascribed by Muslims that He should receive a higher status in Islam than he does. The Imam said Muslims recognize Mohammad as the last prophet of Allah (God) but claim not to worship him. Judaism doesn't recognize Jesus, but the Muslims do. Does this mean that followers of Mohammad are closer to God than those of Judaism?

Exterior of the Islamic Cultural Center of TempeNext, the Imam opened the floor for questions. The Imam and a woman who he identified as "his boss" meaning she was a layman from the mosque congregation, fielded the questions. One person asked about the apparent unequal treatment of women as exhibited by the women sitting in the back of the mosque and other examples demonstrated in the Muslim world.

It was explained by the Imam that because of the frequent bowing down during the service that having women in the front could be a distraction to the men worshippers who are to be focusing on Allah.

A statement by Muhammad sheds some light on the subject: "O People: It is true that you have certain rights in regard to your women, but they also have rights over you. Remember that you have taken them as your wives, only under God's trust and with His permission...Do treat your women well and be kind to them, for they are your partners and committed helpers..."

Another visitor asked about the Islamic "Jihad" against Christians and if Muslims were committed to the destruction of infidels. It was explained by the Imam and the other lady that Jihad is not a word that just translates into "war". Its meaning could be better defined as "a struggle against something." Another person wanted to know about all the killing done by Muslims. The Imam said that their religion does not condone killing. In the Imam's accompanying notes to his presentation, a quotation attributed to the Prophet Muhammad's last sermon is noteworthy: "All mankind is from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; also, a white has no superiority over a black, nor a black has any superiority over a white - except by piety and good action..."

Interior of the Islamic Cultural Center of TempeAnother visitor in the audience recounted that when her family was based in Turkey they were treated beautifully by the Muslims in that country.

There is no doubt that there are some Muslims who want to "get" us. But, as I pointed out in some general comments I made to the assembly: the United States was also guilty of killing millions of innocent people needlessly in the steady stream of serial wars that the U.S. fosters and perpetuates. I said that as a follower of Christ that I could see no justification for what the U.S. has done in Iraq. I pointed out that the war in Iraq was not legal because our Constitution does not give the President the power to declare war. Only Congress has been given the power to declare war. Also, I pointed out that our President claims he is a Christian. His actions are certainly at a variance to the teachings of Jesus. No wonder the world is so mixed up about what Christians say they believe and what they advocate. Applause originated from a number of the members of the mosque after making my comments.

Upon my sitting down, another visitor jumped up to strongly disagree with me and question my patriotism. He claimed that he was a veteran and had defended our freedom. Then, a number of the visitors applauded him. It is a sad commentary to think how the American public has been brainwashed to think of Muslims as a threat to us. Any honest person when reviewing the facts will see how dangerous the United States' policy of wars for "democracy" really is. Many Americans believe that the United States is somehow morally superior to anybody else on the planet and is the universal dispensing agent of truth and justice. Applying Jesus' directive to love your neighbor as yourself still sounds valid to me.

If you have a chance to visit a mosque, don't hesitate to do so. I felt warmly received during my visit. Compare this to downright animosity received on occasion from some of my "bloodthirsty brothers in Christ" when standing outside their churches holding a sign that simply says: "Choose Life, Not War."

Tom Compton is a co-founder of We Hold These Truths and Strait Gate Ministries.

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