This would be the second time I visited a mosque. The first time I had the chance to visit was with a government class I had taken in high school. The mosque were not alike, this mosque I visited this time was called Islamic Center of Des Moines located on 6201 Franklin Avenue in Des Moines. I had called the Mosque beforehand to find out the Muslim weekly service time is on Friday so I visited on Friday, May 6th at 1:30 p. m. I had went with a friend who had little to no knowledge of this religion like myself. The mosque did not look like a mosque; it was just a building with minimal parking space.
There were a ton of cars there, parked along the drive way and in the grass. My friend and I weren’t very familiar with this religion except for the bits and pieces we know of the religion and what we learned in our previous religion classes. I remember being very nervous about what to wear, what to say, etc. I didn’t know how conservative this mosque would be. It was a hot day outside, but as I was researching on the internet I saw that women were supposed to wear clothing that would cover everything but their feet and hands so I made we were both covered.
The service started at 1:45 PM. We arrived at 1:30 and got to speak a little bit with the some of the leaders there. The imam was there (or one of the mosque leaders, I can’t remember), and there was a woman as well. They were extremely friendly, and I got hugs by both of them. The man was wearing an un-tucked, short-sleeved Hawaiian shirt. The woman was wearing a very colorful dress and hijab. They were very welcoming of us. When we got inside we took off our shoes.
There were bathrooms for men and women to perform ablutions (washing hands, etc. I was expecting that I would also have to do ablutions or even wear a hat, but I did not. The service is divided into the men and women sections. I was directed inside and I got spot in the back of the room which I was comfortable with, I was able to see everything that went on. Inside is a fairly plain room the size of an exercise room covered with lush oriental carpets. We sat in the back. At 1:45, service started with a prayer leader praying in Arabic. It was awkward and quiet at first.
The women sat in the back of the room while men sat in the front. We sat down on the floor, both on our knees and decided to pray as well, so I did, with my eyes closed in that position. People slowly came into the mosque and we had to move back to let more people in. I eventually found myself alongside many others who seem to not care if my friend and I were “outsiders”. By the end of the service at 2:30, the room was filled with about 75 people and some boys. Most of the people were Arabic, Middle-Eastern, Pakistani. I saw some African and Caucasians.
During prayer time, there was an older woman all covered in, what I believed to be traditional clothing for a muslim woman, who sat down in a chair beside of me, I could hear her praying — and it sounded like she was quietly speaking in tongue — My childhood pastor used to pray in tongues whenever we prayed for people. So the mosque felt familiar in that sense. There was absolutely no music or anything like that. And then the pastor came to the front of the room to speak. There was a silence when he came up to speak. As I found out later, it was completely forbidden for anyone except the Imam to speak during this period.
The imam spoke about freedom of religion — a freedom they would not have in another country, even Islamic countries. But he also had a strange take on separation of Church and State, he said that we have “In God we trust” on the currency, so religious belief is not entirely separated from the government. He also said that we have to pay taxes, and he then compared that to taxes under ancient Muslim caliphates where non-believers had to pay a tax (As I am learning in my history class, non-muslims paid a higher tax than Muslims, so there was less pressure to convert people to Islam in other countries for that reason.
I did not buy the comparison, but I would later find out that sharia is important to many Muslims, but ideas and concepts of sharia (way/path of the Muslim people) are just as varied as Christian beliefs. There were no religious formalities like a communion. The service closed with some announcements. At the end of the service, there was a special prayer for Muslims only — they stressed this point. Non-Muslims were to sit in the chairs at the wings of the main sanctuary. The prayers were performed in Arabic and were done in unison.
Then service was over — on my way out I faced many handshakes and “thanks for coming” There was also an alms basket in the lobby for people to give — that’s something my old church did as well, we never asked people to tithe or passed around offering plates. Afterward, they had boxed lunches that you could buy for $5 consisting of Pakistani rice and chicken. Most grabbed a box and left. Very few stayed long afterward to talk with others. It was hard to get out of the parking-lot because there were so many cars there. But overall it wasn’t bad