For my class last semester, I took a course on Islamic mysticism, more specifically on Sufism. It was highly encouraged that we take a trip to a local mosque, not far from the Le Moyne College's campus. My professor informs the mosque that students are coming. They then wait for us to come, prepared to guide us through the ceremony. The trip is optional; there is another assignment that you can do instead if you don't want to go. I am so glad I went because what I discovered at this mosque was much different from American stereotypes that we hear today.
Though I decided to go I was very uncomfortable with the idea. Studying Islam was something I have never done before. I grew up in a Catholic high school studying Catholic church doctrine. It was slightly nerve racking to just register for the course let alone actually visit a mosque.
A very friendly woman was waiting for me when I got there. She took me under her wing and showed me where to go. We walked up the stairs where we took off our shoes before entering where we would pray. I then entered a balcony where the rest of the women gathered for the service. I was nervous, as a practicing Catholic. I was totally out of my element but this woman made me feel much more comfortable. I sat down in a corner and observed; it was rather interesting. I listened to the Imam preach about the importance of peace and ask the congregation to donate to a charitable cause. The woman that greeted me then answered any questions that I had about the service. She explained the Arabic prayers and motions that were performed through out the service.
I didn't have a profound religious experience that day but a spiritual one. A feeling of admiration toward individuals seeking to worship a higher being through prayer. A sense of curiosity at the women and young children who I observed. As an individual who would state herself as a religious individual, a desire for the faith that the congregation has as they moved through out their service. A sense of hope because of the generous community that decided to let the Catholic white American in to their community.
Today, in the media, Americans often hear rhetoric that associates Muslims with terrorists. Or even worse, the rhetoric calls them animals who seek violence and death to America. Never did I ever feel threatened or afraid to be there. Most of the congregation was intrigued and inspired that I took the time to come and visit. They didn’t brainwash me or force me to convert. They didn’t criticize me for being Catholic, or any of the other false stereotypes that have been created.
They were a welcoming community that sought to educate me on their faith. I couldn't be more honored to do so. That mosque had something that was purely unique in any type of organized religion I had observed, a true sense of equality not just within the members of its congregation but to strangers as well. There is no us and them but we. There were no dirty looks when I , the white American Catholic walked in without a hijab. It begs the question, what do I do when a stranger walks in to church on Sunday morning? Do I practice what I preach?