There were some substantial differences between the holy places of Roman Catholics and the Sunni Islamic Mosque at Florida, the most crucial one being the segregation between males and females for entering the mosque. The Florida mosque is only for male members and females are not allowed to enter the mosque. Additionally, it is compulsory to perform the “wudu” or purification with water before entering the mosque. Another important point of distinction between Holy Christian places and the mosque for Muslims is that the mosque can be entered without any footwear, which has to be removed outside the mosque.
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There were other notable differences in the seating and praying arrangements between the Muslim mosque and the Roman Catholic churches. Churches have benches to accommodate people, while the mosque is devoid of any seating furniture such as benches or chairs. The most notable difference between the church and the mosque is the presence of a statue of Mother Mary in churches and the absence of any statues in mosques. There were no signs, figures or human pictures in mosque and there were holy books which were available for everyone to read, kept on simple racks of furniture.
The prayers had to be conducted facing the West which is the direction of the ‘Kabaa’ in the holy city of Mecca. In fact, all members, including the leader of the prayers or the Imam, have to face in the same direction while praying, as opposed to churches, where the leader and the followers face one another. Moreover, I was informed that when entering the mosque, it was necessary to abstain from alcohol or any such drinks.
What customs did they practice?
The most important custom followed in the mosque was the performance of the ‘salat’ or ‘namaaz’. All members, mostly males gathered in the mosque for the performance of the daily prayers which is conducted in a particular format. Male members enter the mosque and engage in the performance of the salat which is a form of prayer to their God, Allah. The day I had chosen to visit the mosque was a Friday, which is also believed to be an extremely auspicious and holy day for the Muslim community. While daily prayer or namaaz is a compulsion for all Muslims, irrespective of their age or gender, the Friday prayer is performed with great enthusiasm and all Muslims try to gather at the mosque to perform this prayer collectively, which is lead by their leader, the Imam.
All Muslim men came to the mosque at the call for namaaz, which is known as the ‘azaan’ and is an indication that the time for performing prayers has commenced. All males performed the namaaz together collectively and followed the leader or Imam. Each and every action was conducted in unison and there the body postures were exactly the same during the different phases of the namaaz or prayer. So much so, that when the men were in seated position during the prayer, all of them raised the index finger of their right hands simultaneously. After the prayer had ended, all hands rose and were positioned in the same manner to pray to their almighty and ask for His forgiveness. Following the end of the prayer all the members arose and greeted one another with respect and shook hands with each other as a sign of brotherhood and unity.
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There was not a single move, gesture of indication which offended me in any possible manner. I was completely at ease and found the members present there to be friendly and cordial. They all seemed to gather there for a specific purpose, to pray to their God, Allah and to bow down before him in prayers. I was aware of some of the customs like removal of footwear before entering the mosque, since I had been informed about this by a Muslim friend. Additionally, I was also aware that Friday is believed to be an auspicious day for Muslim prayers, which is why I chose this day for visiting the mosque.
I found it similar to Christianity in the sense that the Sunday mass of Christians is highly revered and practiced with great sincerity and devotion by Christians. The only difference, however, is that there is no distinction between males and females and all are allowed to enter and pray together. In the case of Muslim, only male members are allowed to pray in the mosques and if women want to pray in mosques, they can do so in separate sections assigned only to females. Obviously, there was no offense of any kind and all the members had gathered to pray together.
In fact, the attitude of most of the individuals, adults, and children, elderly was extremely cordial and friendly and they responded very positively to all my queries. They were very helpful and responded patiently to all my questions, however, I did not speak or talk to any member while they were engaged in the course of their prayers which took them about several minutes, during which time they could not divert their attention to anything or anybody nearby.
How did the Mosque look like?
The mosque was a place of bustling activity with individuals engaged in prayers and the activities related to it. There was a huge room where members entered without their footwear and after conducting the purification or the ‘wudu’ with water. The mosque had simple pieces of furniture on which several holy prayer books were placed. The style and architecture of the mosque was not modern, rather had the feel of Muslim mughal architecture with circular beams. The interior was simple with appropriate ceiling lights and wall to wall green carpeting. The green carpet is divided longitudinally into rows, with many yellow lines, known as ‘safs’ which cover the carpet. Men and women are segregated during prayer with a curtain. The mosque entrances are separate for males and females and there is ample parking space in front of the mosque.
How did people interact and how was your experience in all from beginning to end?
From the beginning to the end, my experience at the mosque was peaceful and highly informative. I was welcomed and treated with respect by the imam as well as some of the other members present there. All those with whom I communicated and asked question, responded extremely peacefully, patiently and in a friendly manner. I was welcomed by the imam who informed me that the mosque is welcome to all humankind and that it receives numerous visitors from other religions frequently. There were no distinctions made on racial or communal basis and individuals from all communities including India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Africa and even America coming to pray to the mosque. The mosque was an excellent example of diversity with people from different nationalities and communities getting together to fulfil a common purpose, praying peacefully in the name of their God.