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Salam Alaikum

For my Religions in America class, I was to visit a place of faith different from my own, and then write a short field trip report.  I exceeded the 500-word, 2-page guideline when what I had written looked like a block of words.  Heart Of My Heart accompanied me and wrote about our trip as well, so between the two of us, you'll get an interesting glimpse into our journey across the river into a different world.

Salam Alaikum is the customary Muslim greeting - "peace be with you" - Alaikum Salam is the response.

Often driving into the city to the Washington National Cathedral, as I wait to turn onto Massachusetts Avenue from Rock Creek Parkway, the intriguing architecture of the marbled mosque across the street, with its distinctive minaret and long line of national flags bordering the property, grabs my attention. I am sad Diana Eck’s book, A New Religious America, gave it only a passing reference in the chapter on Muslims. I was curious about this mosque in our Nation’s Capital, and finding the Muslim calendar had deemed the day “Very Good: Blessed, highly favorable”, I decided my field trip should be devoted to exploring Islam. So, on the 17th day of Rabi Al-Awal, which is the third month of the Islamic Lunar Calendar, 1430 AH, my wife and I visited the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C.
Having checked about praying hours when visiting is not allowed, we arrived this Saturday morning (March 14th) shortly after 10 a.m. The building complex occupies a full block on Massachusetts Avenue amidst the infamous embassy row. All gates were secured and we feared we would not get in. However, as we walked the perimeter, a robed black man came out and we caught his attention. Opening the center gate, we were directed to the mosque while he fetched keys. There were signs instructing us to remove our shoes before entering and cubby holes to hold them. So in chilly stocking feet, we stepped inside.


We were alone in this quiet space.  It was dim, with light filtering through windows high overhead that were covered with ornate lattice work. Still we could see beautiful tile work which was donated by the Turkish government in 1969 to adorn the floor, walls and ceiling, an immense copper and bronze central chandelier overhead, and gorgeous rugs from Iran covering the floor. Then, with each flip of a light switch, this large room brightened and came alive in all its magnificent colors and textures. The space beneath the dome and its 160 foot high minaret had pillars delineating outer aisles to the sides and front and back of the room. Bookcases in the back corners held plenty of leather-bound embossed in gold copies of The Holy Qur’an, and there were just a few chairs.


In the middle of the front wall is an ornate niche called the mihrab which orients those praying toward Mecca (the birthplace of Islam). To the right is a stepped pulpit (minbar) from which the imam leading prayers gives his Friday noon day khutba (sermon). We learned later that the pulpit is used three specific occasions: the end of Ramadan, on the Day of Sacrifice, and Fridays at noon. Muslims are commanded to pray during the day at designated times, so there is also a digital clock on the front wall. The specific times for prayer, posted on the wall and their website, are: Dawn (Fajr), Sunrise (Shuruq), Noon (Zuhr), Afternoon (Asr), Sunset (MGrib) and Night (Isha). A cord stretched across the floor up front helps those gathering to pray to line up, shoulder to shoulder, with men to the front, and women behind them. We learned Order is of Allah, order is given Allah.

Stepping into the bookstore, we heard a wedding was to be held that morning. Excusing ourselves, we left with a translation of the Qur’an and literature about Islam, some purchased and even more given. Outside, I then noticed the winged porticoes to either side were parallel to the street, however the mosque itself was set at an angle. The history of the Islamic Center we bought suggested questions arose as to whether or not the mosque was properly oriented to Mecca at 56 Degrees, 33 minutes, and 15 seconds. It appears some creative map interpretation was required to quiet a potential catastrophe.
Salam Alaikum.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Mar. 16th, 2009 11:43 am (UTC)
Actually, formally, it's...
as-salaam alaikum, translated as "Peace upon you"
and the reply,
wa alaikum as-salaam "and upon you, peace"

It is a very formal greeting. You can be less formal with "Marhabah", which is the equivalent of the English "Hello". The reply is "Marhabtain" ("two Marhabahs")

Aaannnddd, you may call your other half, "Habib" or "Habibi" (darling). Interestingly, "Habib" is a common surname in Arabic countries.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )