Thursday, February 10, 2011

Day 10: Prayer Service and Introduction to Islam

Reading materials. I didn't take any pictures inside the mosque because it felt disrespectful.
Cost: Free
Difficulty: 2
Time: 2.5 hours

The Islamic Society of Boston offers an introduction to Islam called Islam 101 at their Cambridge mosque on Thursday evenings. It's actually a six-week repeating cycle, which isn't really explained on their website. I arrived on the final night of the cycle and none of the other half-dozen visitors had attended the previous meetings.On the inside, the mosque reminded me of a modern Protestant church. The prayer service reminded me of a weekday mass-- adherents reaffirming the core anchor of their lives in rote ritual.

The meeting (or class) is supposed to be 90 minutes interrupted by the normal evening prayer. Because we asked so many questions, it actually went to almost two and half hours. Most of the questions came from a young Caucasian man studying Arabic, myself, and a Jewish woman who had married a Muslim and was considering converting.

The class was taught by a teacher-in-training whose name sounded like "Barek" or "Brek" and his mentor, Achmed. It reminded me a little of CCD (I was raised Catholic); while it was aimed at non-Muslims the teachers were devout and spoke with a kind of matter-of-fact conviction.

Some of the main points that the teachers emphasized:

  • There is just one Islam. The conflicts that arise throughout the world are politically based and not from differences in belief. This was the result of one of my questions and I didn't press the obvious differences from moderate to fundamentalist beliefs; it seemed a sensitive topic.
  • A key theme was emphasizing avoidance of temptation before avoidance of sin.
  • Like its Abrahamic counterparts, Islam is monotheistic faith with a jealous God whose commands are not for mortal questioning (my wording).
The last question I asked, after the official class was over, was to Achmed and was whether he felt that Muslims in America are persecuted to the degree that viewers of the media might believe. His answer had some subtleties to it, but the short was, no, the media exaggerates both sides of the coin: most Muslims are not terrorists, and most Muslims do not encounter open hostility in the US, but there is some feeling of persecution.

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