I’ve always been interested in the Middle East ever since I was a child. The culture, language, politics, and history are fascinating to me and I plan to turn this passion into a career by working in the US Foreign Service. One of the most intriguing aspects of the Middle East is Islam. I have researched this topic in the past but I feel that it’s far too complex to understand with a short research paper or two. In order to find out more about how it functions, what its followers believe, and to clear up any misconceptions I might have about it I embarked upon a two part learning journey. First I attended a lecture entitled “10 Misconceptions about Islam” hosted by OU’s Muslim Student Association with guest speaker Imam Imad Enchassi. I went with my best friend, Lmais, who happens to be a Muslim from Egypt. He spoke on many topics such as the status in women in Islam, the meaning of Jihad, and the idea that terrorist organizations take the Qur’an out of context and use it for evil. He gives this talk frequently at schools, universities, and churches all over the United States in order to dispel the growing misconceptions about Islam and Muslims in general.
After this, I attended a Friday prayer session at the local mosque. I’ve never been to a mosque before but I have been to several protestant churches and catholic cathedrals. The mosque was more like a church than a cathedral in that it was simple; however, it was even simpler than a church. The absence of prophetic imagery and its simplicity in design really struck me. Everything about it, both inside and out, was as plain as possible. I went to the service at 1:30 p.m. after my Arabic class with my friend Emad although as we entered we had to part ways because the men and women have separate sections in the mosque. I passed a small room with women sitting on the floor wearing brightly colored hijabs holding their babies while toddlers ran around them and fell on the soft carpeting. The Adhan, or call to prayer, was being recited over loudspeakers as I tentatively made my way into the main women’s room, ever conscious of my hastily crafted hijab that all women must don when entering a mosque. I sat in a chair on the back wall and listened to the service and was reminded of the countless times I’d fidgeted through sermons the Methodist preacher used to give when I was little. The man speaking was televised on closed circuit TV from the men’s room next door. Throughout his speech several women trickled in, said their prayers, and then listened quietly. When he was finished the women stood in two lines and said their final prayers as the man on the TV recited the prayer in Arabic.
As I left the mosque, I didn’t have all of my questions answered but I felt much more enlightened. I still would like to know how one becomes an Imam, what makes a hadith better than another, and what dua is. I honestly think that everyone should try attending a service at their local mosque in order to see what it’s like. I found it to be really helpful in my quest to better understand Islam.