A small wooden loudspeaker reverberates the message from Imam Rasid to the small corner designated for women in the mosque. There’s a maroon velvet curtain hanging in a makeshift doorway that separates us. I’m sitting in a small chair on the back wall wearing a raincoat a long dress, pants, socks and a headscarf. I’m staring at the pattern on the rug on the floor. I look around to the women that surround me to watch what to do with my hands. I’m nervous because I’ve never been to a mosque, but I come in peace and silence. Reflecting the word itself, Islam. Derived from the root word s-l-m, which means surrender to peace.
I felt like an outsider walking through the separate entrance on Park Place, but once inside I feel a familiarity that reflects other prayer services I’ve attended. The smell of incense, a clip art sign for no cell phone use, a box for donations, a bookcase of holy books, a calm silence of reflected prayer. The attendance of women is small, but I can feel the rest of the congregation on the other side of the curtain. I want to cross the curtain, but I wait in patience listening to the khutbah. This is similar, but different and I will do my best to respect this experience.
Imam Rasid’s message comes across in English. I am surprised. He speaks of letting go of materialism and spending too much time on the internet, devoting oneself to fasting for Ramadan, community, charity, and neighbors. The last religious service I attended had a very similar message. I make small notes in a notebook, adhering to the clip art signs.
The Imam finishes in English and there is a sense that the prayer is coming to an end. I watch from my chair along the back wall. The seven women rise and are standing in unity in a beautiful display of floral fabrics from head to ankles, hands crossed over there hearts bowing, standing up, bowing again. A hum in unison is heard even beyond the velvet curtain.
The service has ended. Some of the women pray down and recite the last of their prayers. I wait for a majority of them to leave, reflecting and accepting the prayer and peace. I walk out the door and around the corner to the main entrance on Nostrand Avenue. I tell someone I am here to speak to the Imam. They are friendly and guide me to the Imam’s office. I take a look at the main section of the Mosque. It is much larger. It is more accommodating to the larger crowds of attendance in the men’s section. I put my shoes on a shelf and make my way into the office.
I thank Imam Rasid for taking the time to speak with me. We spoke on the phone once before and I told him I was coming. I’ve got a list of questions but I didn’t know what to expect when I approached this, so I left some room. I’m feeling at peace after the prayer and tell the Imam that I enjoyed his service.
As a contributing writer for a neighborhood publication, my main questions have to do with the community of the Masjid and the regular attendants. Though the mosque is large, it is unassuming from the outside an earth tone with no windows. I’m curious about the numbers. The Jumu'ahon Friday afternoon holds the largest crowds, especially during the holy season of Ramadan. Not so dissimilar to the attendance during holy weeks of other faiths. There were upwards of 150 attendants on that Friday. Other services bring 30 to 40 Muslims to prayer.
I inquire about the regular attendance numbers and Imam Rasid tells me that it varies and in modern times there are more attendants because of ride sharing and social media. The mosque is found regularly by practicing Muslims on Facebook and Google by Uber and Lyft drivers, so they can get five prayers a day. From my experience, there is a very strong sense of community common in other houses of prayer with the same attendants at every service week after week. This is different, drivers coming from New Jersey and other boroughs, so that they can attend their prayers at the right times, corresponding with the lunar calendar. This strikes me interesting. Such modern times we live in. Just another example of religious establishments keeping up with the times, like the Pope having a Twitter account.
When I ask about the relationship in the community, Imam Rasid first tells me about various charity endeavors; coat drives and food banks. Charity, one of the five pillars of Islam. He also mentions his work on state and interfaith connection and the place the Mosque serves in the community. He was at the time waiting on a call from a local rabbi, in planning a community event.
For Imam Rasid, the gentrification of the neighborhood isn’t happening fast enough. “There’s problems here”, he says. “When the gentrification comes, the police will come and then the crime will go down.” He is not wrong and surely has cause for concern. Three blocks away, a deadly shooting occurred just the day before.
On my walk home, my nervousness has subsided and I’m grateful for this experience. That in an hour, I’m able to open my eyes and heart to a new experience. My thoughts go to the name of the Mosque. Kawthar. In Arabic it translates to a lot of a lot. I feel the excessive bounty in the similarities and differences. With the acceptance to a new experience; through the community work and charities; through the interfaith partnerships; and with the adaptation to the modern age. I’m thankful for the opportunity that allows me to experience new worlds in my own community.
Peace be with you. Peace with God and peace within the community.