In the very early hours of the afternoon, on an idle rainy Friday, the American, Muslim-revert Imam interrupted the sermon and said, “brothers, today we shall have a New York City prayer.”
Perplexed, the prayers looked around wondering what on earth would this American Imam amongst the Arab crowd be referring to.
“A New York City prayer,” he continued, “is when you pray and the only concern you have is that the person in front of you has a clean pair of socks that day.”
Still the audience looked at him with one raised eyebrow.
To me, this was probably one of the most interesting sermons I had been to in a while, for Friday prayers bore the living daylights out of me. Not in an anti-islamic way of course, but more because lately I have started to feel that the depth of my religion has simmered down to speeches of common logic and sense, that need not an Imam to waste time thinking about, let alone preach.
I sit on the floor cross legged almost mesmerized, struggling to make something, anything, remotely interesting from the verbal patterns the Sheikh draws. My imagination would run wild trying heedfully to assemble spiritual enlightenment out of what is being said.
“Brothers, we need to gather closer to one another, and make more space for the gentlemen outside in the rain. Let us make room for them to enter the Masjid.”
Anger rushed to my face. Is this the New York City Prayer he is referring to? Is this man daft?! This is a standard Muslim prayer. Doesn’t he hear the Imam in Mecca always say, “Seal off all gaps and stand in compassion with your brothers.”
Did he forget that the name Friday in Arabic is derived from the Arabic word crowd. Never mind the men who double park and hold anyone who isn’t praying hostage till after the prayer time, or those who straddle on the floor in a way to maximize the surface area for their comfort, or those who would stand wide-footed in order to get “them boys” ventilated while a third of the men pray outside, prone to sun stroke or a cold. Friday prayer is a collective communal act that Muslims do, and his mockery shall not be tolerated! I wanted to stand and condemn him for his arrogance.
I came across this Masjid as part of my own solution to save myself from a downward spiral towards Islamic indifference. I would go to a new masjid every week until I find one that somehow would have traces of intellect left in the redundant Friday sermon.
I was on a mission to find a hint of the past skill set require to be a sheikh; the shrewd, sharp, and insightful mind, with captivating eloquence has somehow dissipated and replaced to become the career choice for those at the bottom of the academic pool, who happen to be very good readers of the same piece of paper, over and over, week in and week out, year in and year out, regardless of the global events, oblivious of all elephants in all the rooms.
I wanted to walk out of the prayer hall and never return again.
I imagined myself walking past the men standing outside, and it occurred to me that maybe they would rather soak in the rain than listen to words of timid advice that have been weaved into our humanity, but I remain seated.
It took several minutes for it to register. People started to move, and drenched Muslims started to enter the Masjid.
Tireless, I went back home bewildered at the lack of offense people took at the Imam’s sarcastic teaching. I was lost.
A few weeks later a heard someone talking about a progressive masjid, that brings together the old with the new. Could it be? Are my prayers finally answered? Where is this masjid? I have to attend next Friday sermon.
I prepared myself early and made my way there to be the amongst the first lines of prayer. The Imam walked up the podium, he didn’t have a paper in his hand, so this seemed very promising. This is the moment of truth, he is going to shower us with diamonds of knowledge. He said “al salaam aleikum,” and I can feel the reverence in his voice. My heart started to race as he prepared to start his sermon. He took an iPad out from under his arm and started reading from it as his fingers flicked from one page to the next.