Hijabs, Date Palms, and my Visit to a Mosque

Have you ever wondered what goes on in a Muslim church or gathering of Muslim believers?

When we arrived at the Islamic Center of Golden, there were no burning Israeli flags to greet us. Instead, there was a smiling man from Libya holding open the door and showing us where we could keep our shoes while we walked on the fine carpets. There were no “Death to America” chants, but an abundantly stocked table with tea, Arabic coffee, donuts, candied date palms and orange juice for guests. Our female hosts had bright eyes framed by beautiful headscarves and smiled warmly, but somewhat nervously, as they offered us refreshments and welcome.

As it was already past noon, we were whisked into the main room of the mosque to witness and, if we wished, to participate in prayers. Omar, originally from the United Kingdom, formally welcomed us to the Islamic Center of Golden and introduced Osama (a graduate student at Mines originally from UAE) who lead the community in prayers. Osama’s rich and beautiful voice recited the call to prayer as those who wanted to pray lined up, shoulder to shoulder, facing northeast towards Mecca. Women and men prayed together, though in different rows, in beautiful solidarity as Osama then chanted prompts in Arabic and we went through a series of nods, bows, and prostrations to the Almighty. Whether we call this Creator by the Hebrew name Yahweh or simply know Abraham’s patron as God or Allah (al-lah, “The God”), there was a beautiful sense of peace as all prayed together. Man and woman; Christian and Muslim; young and old.

The mosque is beautiful in its simplicity. Formally a home or office, the non-structural walls had been removed and to facilitate community gathering and worship. There is an embroidered cloth with the Shahada (the essential Muslim prayer akin to the Shema of Judaism or the Our Father of Christianity) on the wall in the foyer. On the left an antechamber for ritual washing and on the right, there was a hospitality table of refreshments. The main open space of the mosque has a deep maroon carpet and white walls bare of anything but an occasional bookcase with green bound copies of the Holy Qu’ran. There are no pews and barely any furniture, save for some chairs on the side for elderly or infirm. On the northeastern side of the building, there was a wall-mounted mihrab indicating the direction of Mecca as well as the times for prayer.

After our welcome and prayer, Omar introduced other members of the ICG’s community who were present and asked us about our first impressions and what initial questions we had. Then, as we sat upon the lush carpet, Omar began a presentation on Islam and its place within the family of the Abrahamic monotheistic religions. Almost as a Shakespearian comic relief, the presentation was interrupted here and there by injections from a Pakistani Muslim woman. Omar patiently paused and gave the elder woman the honorific title of “Auntie” even though he had never met her before that day. Auntie kept Omar on schedule as we learned more about both the traditions of Islam as well as the similarities between Islam and Christianity.

The highlight of our community’s visit to the Islamic Center of Golden was undoubtedly the “intermission” during Omar’s presentation. At that point, while we were invited to refresh ourselves and stretch our legs, the female Muslims present took turns helping members of our group to try the beautiful hijab headscarves. What followed was a warm back and forth between the women of two faiths, communicated in broken English, warm smiles and plenty of laughs.

What I will remember from our tour of the Islamic Center of Golden, however, is not the variety of accents, nor the headscarves or candied date palms. I will not remember the terms and rituals that were so unfamiliar to me. I will remember the laughs, the smiles. I will remember Omar, standing there in his Bronco’s t-shirt, pronouncing “zero” as “naught” in his British accent and how “Auntie” kept interrupting him. I will remember soberly how he asked rhetorically why Muslims should have to be defined by the violent and vile actions of those who act against the teachings of Islam and Christianity alike. But most of all, I will remember how easily strangers became friends and how strange ideas came to be understood and respected. Maybe, just maybe, there is hope for peace after all.