Our Friday began with a visit to the Islamic Society of Greater Valley Forge.
We were greeted warmly by members of their community and also their Imam. We met in the original, smaller building where Muslims first gathered to pray and organize before they were able to build the current structure you see above.
This Muslim community is unique in that they share property and space with both a Baptist church and a Jewish community. This demonstrates their desire for both cooperation and also their work to dispel the various stereotypes that exist about the religion of Islam.
As the Imam said to all of us, it is best always to go to the source of each religious tradition in order to really understand. I encourage you to pick up a copy of the Qur’an in whichever language you speak. Read it and then explore further by contacting either a local mosque or simply engage in conversation with Muslims where you live. This is the best way to learn and to cooperate!
Back to our experience….
We had some time to hear from the various members [male and female] of their community as they shared their perspectives on Islam and how they live out their faith. The Alvernia students asked some good questions.
Then, it was time for Jumu’ah prayer.
Jumu’ah [jum`ah, Arabic, ṣalāt al-jum`ah] means “Friday prayer” and is a congregational prayer that Muslims hold every Friday, just after noon.
We entered the prayer space and sat down close to the others who had already begun to listen to the Imam give his message. As the members of their community explained, females and males enter at different sides of the prayer space and sit separately in the same room. This is for reasons of modesty and also of respect for the mosque as a “house of Allah.”
During this gathering, we heard various remarks about the Qur’an from the Imam, related to the peacemaking and mercy-seeking that is required of all Muslims. He even made reference to Jesus [Isa] at various points in his message.
My favorite part is the end of the Friday prayers, a congregational rakat [rak’ah].
It is a powerful moment to be welcomed into this prayer and to stand feet to feet with others. As we bent over, bowed, stood, and then appropriately moved our heads to the left and right, I was most certainly transformed and reminded of how important it is to embrace the cultures and religions of our neighbors without judgement.
After the prayers, we went downstairs for more discussion. The Alvernia students asked some really good questions and I was particularly impressed with their willingness to ask the difficult questions. The members of ISGVF encouraged the students to ask even the questions that they were uncomfortable to bring up. I think the ice was broken in many ways. Laughter prevailed. Understandings gained.
What a great experience.