Contend Earnestly: 4 White Guys and a Cambodian Walk Into a Mosque: My Visit to a Mosque

Saturday, February 27, 2010

4 White Guys and a Cambodian Walk Into a Mosque: My Visit to a Mosque

I know that the title either sounds like the start of a joke, or if you are like a lot of American Christians, you might think that this story is going to be a headline in the local news of some severe beating or maybe even deaths. But, it's not. Actually, once you have been to a Mosque, that sounds plain ridiculous.

Yesterday, I had the privilege to make a visit to the Mosque in Kent. Now, if you are like most Muslims or Christians you might be asking yourself, "Why did you go to a Mosque, aren't you a Christian?" I will answer this, towards the end.

As we entered, like with every encounter I have ever had with Muslims, they were extremely nice and welcoming. The funny thing is that when you walk around with a Cambodian, they automatically think that he is the Muslim and I am the one needing to be converted. The first person we spoke to was the parking attendant and he asked me straight up, "Are you a Muslim?" (very nice tone and just wondering). You have to understand, I wear a suit to work and I don't change when I go to the Mosque. So, if you think of the prototypical white Western Christian man, I am exactly that in appearance during the week. Once I get home or on the weekends...all bets are off though.

Because it was raining and we were quickly walking in, I didn't have time to give the man a proper response, so I just responded, "no." He told Michael, "Maybe you can convert him!" And we all laughed.

Because it was Friday, we were attending what Muslims call Jummah Prayers (which was my second visit to Jummah Prayers), is a congregational prayer (salat) that Muslims hold every Friday, just after noon in lieu of dhuhr. It is obligatory upon every sane, adult, Muslim male to attend. It is mentioned in the Qur'an as:

O you who believe! when the call is made for prayer on Friday, then hasten to the remembrance of God and leave off trading; that is better for you, if you know. (Qur'an 62:9)

Before we walk in, we take off our shoes and make our way to the front of the Mosque, or if you want to be correct, it is really an Islamic Center, not an actual Mosque. Which I think the difference is found in the rules pertained when a building is a Mosque that is very difficult to follow in the West. I might be wrong, so I'll have to ask my Muslim friends.

We sat in the back observing the men who had went early to make up for any prayers that they had missed that day. Because of mostly modesty issues, men and women are separated in the Islamic Center (sometimes women pray in the back, but not in the two Islamic Centers I have visited). The reason is that when the Muslim prays they prostrate themselves and are very tightly together and don't think it would be right for a Muslim man to be putting his head near a woman's butt for prayers. Actually sounds quite correct when you think of it.

At around 12:30 the call to prayer is started and the Imam or Sheikh stands up and gives what we would think of as a sermon. The man giving this sermon was AbdulQadir Sheikh. He is only 26 and is already a Sheikh and from what I understand he is studying to be a Mufti, which is quite impressive at such a young age.

After his sermon, it was time for prayer. The Sheikh sits down in the same position as every other man in the front, speaks some Arabic that is a call to honor and worship God, there is a response from the Muslims and then they all prostrate and pray. Because I don't know the correct way to pray in their religion, I merely stand in the back and pray with my hands turned palms up. It is always awesome to see so many men in unison pray to God in the middle of the day. Plus, it gave the chance for 5 of us followers of Jesus to take time out of our day and spend time in prayer for the Muslim people and my own need of forgiveness.

After the prayer time, there were announcements and the Sheikh, knowing we were coming because the President of CAIR invited us and told the Sheikh, introduced us and asked for everyone to show us hospitality. Afterward, we had the chance to speak to so many men and meet so many new friends. It was awesome. After about five minutes one man made his way to us and handed us all a container with hot food from a local Halal Restaurant. Again, true hospitality from our Muslim friends making us feel welcome.

The main question from the men was simply, "Why are you guys here?" They weren't asking out of anger or spite, but when 5 non-Muslims are at a Mosque, it is quite odd. Especially when five of us are as white as they come. I told those who asked me the truth. I am simply going to these Mosques to bridge the gap. I want to see peace between Muslims and Christians. I want to be the one reaching out and be the peacemaker. I want to show the Muslims that those who say that they love and follow Jesus actually do love them and see them as bearing the image of God. I simply told them that we seek to destroy the bad images of Muslims to those in the West. They laughed and said, "Yeah...because we're not terrorists!" We all busted out in laughter. They were all quite humbled by the fact that we would reach out, come to their place of worship and reach out our hands to build peace. I told them that I was a follower of Jesus seeking to live out what Jesus called us to do, "Love the Lord God with all my heart and to love my neighbor as myself." I told them, "No Muslim has ever done anything evil against me, so you aren't my enemy, but I would like you to become my friend." The smiles on the faces of these men were awesome and we could have stayed all day. But, it was time for some Starbucks with the Sheikh.

Those that went to Starbucks were:

The Sheikh

He was wearing the traditional garb with the long robe, head covering, etc. Which made it very interesting to watch people stare at us as we sat with him.

The Head of CAIR, Seattle (Council on American-Islamic Relations)

A Local Pastor

2 Local Peacemakers who are followers of Jesus

My friend Michael and elder at Harambee who is a local peacemaker and follower of Jesus

Myself. A white businessman who loves Jesus.

It was quite the group. As we entered Starbucks, I knew I was going to be paying for this coffee time as it was a great privilege to sit with these men and discuss how we can break down the barriers between Muslims and Christians in our area. I think the Sheikh could see this and he came up to me and insisted on paying. I refused at first, but his sincerity was unmistakable, so I allowed him to pay with gratitude.

What is interesting is that as we sat, he continued to apologize because he wasn't giving us enough hospitality properly. He was astonished that we would all take time out of our days to spend in their Jummah prayers to seek them out for peace. He said because of this, it challenged him to know us and love us more and he asked if he could visit our places of worship. At one point, Michael repented for Christianity as a whole for not loving them like Jesus has called us to, and the Sheikh also repented to us saying that it goes both ways.

Over all, we spent about 2 hours telling our stories and building friendships. It was a great time and one that we will be able to build on for the future. I know I'll go back to spend time with my new friends. I told the Sheikh that I just wanted Westerners to see Muslims as fathers, mothers, people who smile, cry and desire to worship God. He smiled and I caught him with his iPhone in his hand. I then added, "Westerners need to know that Sheikhs have iPhones!" Everyone laughed and we could see that this was going to be the first meeting of many. We invited the Sheikh and the others to our dialogue on "Who is Jesus?" at the end of March, which the Sheikh was excited about. As we left, I gave the Sheikh my business card and asked him to give me a call if he was ever in Bellevue, so I could take him to lunch. We gave a good ole fashioned man hug and went our ways.

I pray that other followers of Jesus will take time out of their day and visit a Mosque. We should be the ones reaching out to our neighbors and offering our hand of love and service. Whether you see a Muslim as an enemy or just another citizen, it is our duty as followers of Jesus to love them, bless them and pray for them. Don't let those Muslims living around you feel out of place, welcome them and show them there are Christians who truly follow the ways of Jesus.

If you are in the Seattle area and would like to visit a Mosque, please contact me, we can make it work.


Unknown said...

Sounds great, Seth. I look forward to visiting a Mosque with you in the near future. For myself I have never identified Muslims by the extremists probably because I have worked with a few Muslims in the past. One was Iranian, another Lebanese, one was Pakistani, and the last one was Indian. Everyone of these men were very pleasant and had absolutely no notion of killing "infidels." I have also met a Pakistani former Muslim who had become a believer in Jesus Christ and was becoming a missionary to go back into the Muslim world to share the love of Christ. Kerry


Seth McBee said...

Kerry. will be cool to take you. I think people just need to go and meet Muslims and their leaders and just sit down and have good conversation, good food and build good friendships. It will help a ton with the peace process.

Paul said...

Thanks for sharing your experience. I enjoyed reading it.

Just for clarification, even "Mosque" itself isn't the best word to describe the place you visited. It was actually a derogatory word created from the Spanish "Mosquito" (in, I assume Andalusia). In Arabic there are two words for the place... 1) Masjid: just a place of prayer. It can even be in the workplace. 2) Jammah: An official place for the Friday gathering and Khutba (sermon).

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