Friday, February 26, 2016

A visit to the Islamic Society of the Niagara Frontier

The Rev. Canon Earle King, pastor of Saint Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church in Grand Island, N.Y., put together a program for Lent. Anyone interested could visit four different houses of worship, representing four different faiths. He called the series, "Beyond Our Doors: Understanding Others' Religions and Cultures." The program started with a seed of an idea and it grew, and, in the process, the people of Saint Timothy Lutheran Church joined in the project.

On Wednesday, we visited the Islamic Society of the Niagara Frontier, located at 745 Heim Road, Getzville. The visit was wonderful. We were served a delicious meal, which included rice, pita bread, salad a vegetable dish, chicken sausage, a potato dish (it was wrapped in dough), and rice pudding. We were treated like kings and queens by our new friends, some of whom grew up here in western New York and others who came from various parts of the world, including Pakistan, India, Canada, Kuwait, Jordan, etc. 

After our meal, the Imam gave a presentation. An imam is a person who leads prayers in a mosque. Here are some of the things that I learned about Islam.
  • Islam is a monotheistic religion. Muslims worship the same God as Christians and Jews.
  • The definition of "Allah" is "the one who is to be worshiped."There are five pillars, which describe the main beliefs of Islam.  These pillars are:
  1. faith (iman): There is one God, Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet. In a mosque, there are designs written on the wall in calligraphy. In each of the designs is written a quality of God. The creator is everything. Nothing can exist without the creator. 
  2. prayer (salat): When people pray, the are placing God at the center of their lives. Muslims pray five times a day. They face Mecca when they pray. These prayers are compulsory for all Muslims. The times of the prayers are: a. before dawn (at about 6:15 in the winter and at about 5 a.m. in the summer), b. mid-day, c. when your shadow becomes your size, d. sunset, and e. nighttime. During the prayers, an excerpt of Quran is read. The Quran is the holy book of the Muslims. Even though translations are available, during prayer, the Quran is always read in Arabic. 
  3. Almsgiving/charity (zakat): Giving money to the poor is required and is not optional, the Imam explained. He said, "If you are well fed and your neighbor sleeps hungry, you are not a complete believer." In addition, hospitality and reaching out to people are important features of the Muslim faith. 
  4. Fasting (sawm): During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast during daylight hours. There are a few exceptions granted to pregnant women, elderly people, small children, and people who are in poor health. If you are healthy, you do not eat, drink, or have relations with your spouse during daylight hours. Fasting is a discipline and a way to learn fortitude and patience. It brings you closer to the creator.
  5. Pilgrimage (hajj): The pilgrimage for Muslims to travel to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia. The reason for Mecca is that is where the Prophet Muhammad was born. People are encourage to travel to Mecca once in their lifetimes, if they can afford the trip and if they are healthy enough to walk long distances. There are no cars in Mecca. Some people, who have the money but not the health, will finance others to take a pilgrimage that, otherwise, they would not have been able to afford. The Imam said, "I had the privilege to go for the first time last year."

 
A few more observations and explanations from the Imam. 
A masjid is a Muslim place of worship, usually a specified building. Prayers, however, can be offered anywhere. In the masjid, there is carpeting and no statues. The Imam explained that mosques are modest structures and that the first mosques were made of clay and were covered with branches. Many mosques have domes and high minarets. The minarets conduct sound so that people can hear the call to prayer. The Islamic Society of the Niagara Frontier has a sound system, instead of a dome, for calling prayers.
During prayers, women and men are separate. "Women are separated from men to give privacy to women," the Imam explained.
There are many prophets in the Muslim faith, including Abraham, David, and Jesus. Muhammad was the last prophet, who was born in 570 and died in 632. The Prophet Muhammad was the founder of the Muslim faith.
Islam is not practiced only in the Middle East. In fact, the country that has the largest population of Muslims is Indonesia. That is because, with a population of almost 256 million people, Indonesia has the fourth biggest population in the world. The three countries with bigger populations are China, India, and the United States.
There are also many misconceptions concerning Islam and Muslims. The worst is that Muslims are violent people who believe that it is OK to kill civilians in a holy war. The Imam said that that killing people is not OK and that violent behavior does not represent Islam, just like people who bomb abortion clinics do not represent Christianity. 
We were told by Yasmin, "Most of us came here for a better life here and to express our Muslim identity. The biggest problem is that people don't know the facts (about the Muslim faith). People who hate Muslims don't know any Muslims. You can ask questions. The Imam is available. We have a board, also called a council of trustees. We have great relations with our neighbors.
"The mosque is always open for visits."
For more information, check out the mosque's website: Islamic Society of the Niagara Frontier website.

And, last but not least, thank you so much to the Imam and to the members of the Islamic Society of the Niagara Frontier. Your hospitality went well beyond anything we ever imagined. I am so grateful. We were offered food, friendship, and education. We were given pamphlets explaining the Muslim faith, as well as English-language translations of the Quran. I have already started reading and will probably have loads of questions! 
I am also grateful to Fahim Mojawalla, co-owner of the Island Ship Center with his wife Seema, and Father Earle King for making this visit possible.

3 comments:

Alana said...

You left with a lot of information. We fear what we do not know and that seems to be true for so many of us. It is hard and sometimes scary to be a member of a minority, even in this country. I will be sharing this on my weekly blog roundup tomorrow.

Alice Gerard said...

Thank you so much, Alana!
I am grateful for sharing my blog and for your comments.

peppylady (Dora) said...

Stop in from Alana and I have never been to Islamic center. There none in my town and sad to say our community isn't friendly toward other minorities or religions .
But there is one about 100 miles south of me in Spokane Wa.

If you find the time stop in at my blog for a cup of coffee.

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