I recently attended Islamic services at a mosque in Winston-Salem, joining a group of students and two professors from the Wake Forest University School of Divinity. Our objective was to learn more about Islam. The leaders of the mosque invited us to attend.
This post describes my visit.
We attended the Jumu’ah Salat, which is Arabic for “Friday prayers.” It is a group prayer service that Muslims hold in mosques throughout the world every Friday. The Jumu’ah Salat is described and encouraged in the Quran.
The Jumu’ah Salat is the main Islamic worship service (a group service) held each week. It starts around 1:30 pm. It is somewhat equivalent to the Christian “preaching” service held around 10:00 am or 11:00 am each Sunday in most Christian churches.
We attended Jumu’ah Salat at the Community Mosque of Winston-Salem. Here is a picture of the mosque from its web site:
Men enter through the door on the right, and women enter through the door on the left. Immediately upon entering, there is an area to remove your shoes, which everyone does. Also, in the same area in which everyone removes their shoes, there are stairs going down to a basement area where one can wash (face, arms, hands, etc.) before coming back upstairs to enter the area in which services occur (washing before prayers is a typical step taken by devout Muslims).
There is a second set of doors between the shoe-removal area and the area in which services occur. Men enter through the right door, and women enter through the left door.
Here is what one sees after entering the second set of doors (another picture from the mosque’s web site):
The room is sparse—no stained-glass windows, no pews, no organ, no piano, etc. This is a view from the back of the room. It is a relatively small space. The lines on the carpet are not at right angles to the wall. The lines are placed to help the congregants know the direction of Mecca, a city in Saudi Arabia towards which Muslims pray. Generally, the direction is towards the back, right corner of this room.
Men entered and sat or kneeled in rows beginning at the very front of the room. Women entered and sat or kneeled in rows beginning at the back of the room. Each woman and girl wore a hijab, which is a veil that covers their head and chest. The vast majority of congregants were adults, but there were a few teenage boys and girls and there were some younger kids. There were probably 100 men and around 40 women in attendance.
I learned that there are two mosques in the Winston-Salem area. The one we attended, the Community Mosque of Winston-Salem, is on the east side of Winston-Salem and the other, the Annoor Islamic Center, is in Clemmons, west of Winston-Salem.
In the 5-10 minutes before the official start to the service, some men and women greeted one another and spoke briefly in this main room, but most seemed to be praying on their own. The prayer involved standing, then kneeling, then bowing until one’s head touches the floor, remaining there briefly, sometimes repeating, and then standing back up again (and repeating).
One man stood near the front of the room and sung / chanted a call-to-prayer song in Arabic. It was a beautiful song. I did not understand a word. I could feel his longing for God in the song, though.
After the song, the imam of the mosque—the worship leader, roughly the equivalent of the senior pastor at a Christian church—rose to greet the congregants. He said a few words of greeting. He stood on the slightly elevated platform in the back, right-hand side of the picture above.
The imam then delivered a sermon, called the khutbah. Most of the sermon was in English, and some of it was in Arabic. This was the Friday after election day. His sermon focused on Moses, who is a venerated prophet in Islam as well as in Christianity and Judaism. The imam made note that Moses stuttered but served Allah (the Arabic word for God) by speaking nevertheless and encouraged the congregants to serve Allah no matter how they feel about their limitations.
The imam also noted the increased incidence of violence towards Muslims in the United States and encouraged the congregants—the women in particular—to be especially careful in the coming days, to be aware of their surroundings, and to avoid going places alone or that might risk their safety. The sermon was folksy and short.
The congregants sat or kneeled on the floor during the sermon. Some of the congregants would occasionally pray on their own during the sermon. They would stand, pause, kneel, etc. This was slightly distracting for me, but it appeared to be expected and normal to the congregants.
The main focus of the service was not the sermon. It was the prayer. After the sermon, a few words about prayer, calling the congregants to pray, were spoken. This is called the Iqama (this may have been where the song occurred, I don’t recall specifically). The men had been sitting in rows during the sermon.
At this time, the men took special care to stand close together, shoulder to shoulder. The women, in the back, did the same. For their prayers, they, together, stood, kneeled, bowed, head to floor, and repeated in prayer, several times.
The prayer time was very spiritual. Seeing the men standing shoulder to shoulder seeking God together was striking, and the same is true for the women.
After several minutes of prayers, a man stood towards the front and made a few announcements—food for the needy would be available, there were a few bills that needed paying and could anyone cover those?, educational classes for kids would be held that weekend, etc. The entire service lasted about 45 minutes.
After the Service
A few congregants greeted us and spoke to us before services started, and several did so at its conclusion. The men in our group sat in the back, essentially on the opposite side from the women congregants. The women in our group sat with the women congregants.
I stayed around and talked with people after the service. The imam had announced our presence (and that we were from Wake Forest) during his opening greeting. The imam and the congregants were friendly. Several of the congregants said to me that they were appreciative of our presence, as they know there is a lot of misinformation and ignorance about Islam. One said he wished everyone knew that ISIS does not represent even close to what the overwhelming majority of Muslims believe or represent Islam.
Many of the congregants and a lot of kids went behind the mosque after the service to talk with one another, laugh, play on the playground, and enjoy a short while together.
(Picture: The picture at the top is one I took a few weeks ago at the Parkland High School football stadium while sitting on the visitor side, waiting for the game to start. The picture doesn’t have anything to do with the post, but I like the picture.)
http://www.communitymosque.com/ (both pictures in this post)