Recently a group of friends and I had the privilege of visiting the Hoover Crescent Islamic Center to break the Ramadan fast with them. Not knowing what to expect and only hearing horror stories in the news, I was looking forward to learning more about the religion and its people.
We were warmly greeted by the president of the Birmingham Islamic Society, Ashfaq Taufique. He showed us into a small classroom lined with posters explaining various aspects of their community and Qur’ans and pamphlets laid out at each seat for us.
After introductions from everyone in the room, he gave us a brief background of the centers and masjids (mosques) around Birmingham – when they were built and what programs are offered at each. We learned about the six articles of Islam, as well as the five pillars of faith. We heard from a young man in the room, Ali, about how he practices while at school and how he deals with people who don’t understand his faith. After about an hour of learning we heard the Call for Prayer and joined Ashfaq and his young friend in breaking the fast with date fruit and some water before heading to prayer. A young lady, Rawan, escorted us to the masjid for prayer. Women and men enter the masjid through separate entrances after removing their shoes. Once inside, we watched and listened as verses of the Qu’ran were recited as men, women, and children stood, bowed, kneeled, and prostrated in prayer. It was a beautiful thing to behold and we stood in revered silence during the service. Many of the women came up to us after and introduced themselves, offering their hands and thanking us for coming. Once the service was over Ashfaq took us into the men’s portion of the masjid so we could see the Qu’ran verses written on the wall in Arabic and ask any questions we might have had about the service itself.
Once we were back in the classroom, it was time to eat the meal. We enjoyed chicken tikka masala, potatoes, rice, and salad. Over dinner we asked many questions of Ashfaq and his young friends. Rawan had just graduated from high school and was on her way to UAB in the fall. She briefly described starting her education out at the Islamic Academy of Alabama and then transferring to Hoover High.
Talking with all of them during our two hour visit, I was struck at how full of love, peace, and passion they were. As Ashfaq pointed out, “There are radicals in every religion, but you don’t hear about others. We are peaceful people – the ones who you see on television are not like us. We don’t know who they are or where they came from. You never hear about all the good that comes from Muslims. We are feeding a school tomorrow here in Birmingham, and across the world a group of Muslims raised money and built a church for some Christians who had no place to worship. But you never hear about that stuff.” It’s sad, but true. I had no idea until he told us about it.
Rawan said it best when she told us, “Our religion is based on love, peace, and kindness. We’re working hard to change people’s perceptions of us against what the media is putting out. We’re ALL human beings.” Amen, Rawan. Amen.
Everyone we met was kind and full of life and smiles. It was a wonderful, eye opening experience that I hope everyone will try at some point. We fear what we do not understand and our group went to get a better understanding. We left full of love, peace, and kindness.
If you would like to share in a Ramadan fast-breaking meal, please contact Rita Taufique at 879-4247 Ext. 2 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to make your reservation.
All photos courtesy of Catherine Lewis