It was tense. The Imam projected his diatribe and the people listened. Then, a skinny man clothed in tupi and thobe spoke a word. Suddenly, another man followed, and then another, and then another. Soon the Mosque erupted into conversation like some University Cafe. What was being discussed? What ground breaking ideas where about to sweep our Mosque?
…….. Witr Prayer? The Imam preached about the importance of understanding the Witr prayer can be indeed prayed in a number of ways according to the sunnah.
This all seemed blasphemous and foreign to our immigrant community composed of men who have attended the same Bangladeshi mosque with it’s archaic customs for the past 20 years. The barriers were slowly being broken and the smoke began to clear. Now the community did in fact realize that “white people” can be Muslim too and Arabs are not all jerks, that you can give a Kutbah wearing a shirt and tie and not have to wear a hat to lead the prayer.
An even shocking realization came with the fact that Islam is not ritual tedium. It is a religion that engages and needs to engage with other ethnic and religious communities and the my way or highway mentality is a significant barrier to progress here in America.
Well. I sat at the back watching the spectacle and asked myself why everyone suddenly had an authoritative voice when it came to the matters of religion and ritual but not in the matters of service, engagement and serious dealings with the community. The Imam urged the men of our heavily immigrant community to perfect their Qur’an and to learn from the Hafiz who led the night prayer in this month. Then another man chimed in about the meaning of “witr” and how you really didn’t need to recite the D’ua qunut. He had found it in some “hadith” he claimed. Another man said another thing, both citing non-existent “hadith” that they could not recite. Everyone seemed to have an opinion when it came to the religion, be they valid or foolish.
Words are wind I thought. The recent controversy regarding Witr prayer really shows the amount of work that needs to be done in my community. But this problem is not exclusive. In other communities, the topic might be inter-racial marriage or Islamic schools. The American Muslim community has a long, long way to go in terms of progress and Islam is not to blame. Rather it is us and our dense minds frozen to a particular tune.