30Mosques.com | Revisited: Imam Al-Khoei Islamic Center

This entry was written by Fatima Ashraf. A community activist who wants to “make it plain,” as brother Malcolm taught us.

Why can’t we all just get along? Wait, maybe we can…

B and A asked me to join them at Al-Khoei Mosque in Jamaica, Queens on Wednesday. I for one, was elated to go – the last time I prayed in a Shi’a masjid was when I was in Beirut, 2007. I had gone to see the 2006 destruction by the IDF – amidst the bombed out buildings and collapsed bridges, the gorgeous blue tiled mosque stood unscathed, but I digress…

Al-Khoei is a grandiose structure that instantly grabs your attention off the Van Wyck Expwy. The front is a large circular lobby that leads to a full time school in one direction and the prayer area in another. Men and women pray in the same space and have almost the same ammenities. The women’s area is neatly sectioned off with dividers. There’s a slight view of the gorgeous mimbar, boasting the same blue tiled design as the masjid in Beirut. When I walked in, I knew to look for the small clay pieces traditionally used by Shi’as in prayer. But I knew very little after that.

Maghrib and Isha were prayed directly after one another. After the second rakat in both, the Imam read “rabbanaa ‘aatinaa fiddunyaa hasanataw wa fil aakhirati hasanataw wa qinaa athaaban naar” out loud. In rukuh and sujood, the Imam also read “subanal rabi ul atheem” and “subanal rabi ul ala’a” out loud, just once, respectively. A young (and very articulate) Muslimah later explained to me that this was in the Shi’a tradition in Ramadan to relieve the congregation from a long prayer – basically, help everyone worship quicky and then get to eating.

I felt like such an outsider. Other than the piece of clay and praying with my arms at my side, I had no idea what I was doing. I reflected on my discomfort – Shi’as are such a minority in the Muslim community all over the world. But in the states, when we are all minorities, and mosques are numbered, how must Shi’as feel in Sunni masjids? And since there are far more Sunni masjids than Shi’a ones, it must be a pretty common that Shi’as find themselves in Sunni land. Its so important that we treat everyone who enters our mosques with warmth and respect and hospitality, everyone comes to worship, whether hands folded or not.

After Isha, I told myself I was going to make friends. I approached the girl who was smiling at me (she KNEW I was new) and introduced myself. She quickly became my new BFF and led me down to the basement for iftar and dinner (she explained that most of the women eat only after Isha). On the way, I stopped to check out the bathroom. Functioning toilets, functioning sinks. No paper towels, busted hand dryer, messy and wet. Probably exactly the same as the guys side, so no complaints from me (other than whyyyy do we Muslims have to be sooo messyyy!!!)

The scene at dinner was amazing! Crowded! Diverse! I heard Pashtu, Farsi, Arabic, Pubjabi, Urdu, and Hyderabadi Urdu (oh wait, that was me). The food was cooked by the masjid’s West African full time chef, Ruby. She has a penchant for South Asian cuisine – tonight’s menu included alloo masala (spicy potatoes), yellow rice, fish, and chicken noodle soup. Everyone sat in rows on the floor and ate family style. Chai was in the lobby.

I shared my potato dish with an elderly Afghani woman who welcomed me with all her heart when I said it was my first time there. I told her the community was beautiful and she said that its even better on the weekends – tonight was a slow night (there were at least 150 women eating).

The young Muslimah who befriended me told me that in lieu of tarawih, after dinner, the Maulana holds a 15min Q&A when anyone can ask anything. But he will not go beyond 15 minutes. If women want to ask a question, they have to relay it to a male member of their family – either during dinner somehow or text it afterwards. After the 15 min lightening round, the congregation breaks up into 4 groups – Arabic speakers, Farsi speakers, Urdu speakers, English speakers. They have lectures and halaqas in language until 11pm-ish.

While drinking chai, I hung out with some Pakistani aunties who insisted I speak to them in urdu. I was self concious of my Hyderabadi Urdi – some elitist Pakistanis, ahem Bassam, act like Hydro Urdu is un-understandable. They (he) stands corrected. The aunties told me that “Hyderabadi Urdu bohot meethi zaban hai!” (Go ask your urdu speaking friends what that means). Anyway, the aunties were curious as to why it took me 5 years to come to the mosque. Here’s what happened after that:

Me: I work in Manhattan, so I usually go to the mosque on 96th st

Aunties: What mosque on 96?

Me: You know, the big one, the Islamic cultural center.

Aunties: (confused looks, heads shaking) we don’t know of any Shi’a masjids on 96th st.

Me: ohhh, yeaaa, um, its a Sunni mosque.

Aunties: GASP! Then why do you go there!?!?

Me: (sweating, contemplating lying) actually, um, aunties, I am not Shi’a, I was raised Sunni.

Aunties: GASP! Then what are you doing HERE?!?!

Me: I think its important to learn from all Muslims about Islam.

Aunties: Oh, so you’re one of the good Sunnis.

Me: There are lots of good Sunnis.

Aunties: (looking skeptical)

Me: I promise, come visit me, I will take you to a great Sunni masjid!

Aunties: (smiling) OK, but you have to promise to come back here, too!

Me: Deal!

Whew! So morale of the story, there are good ones of us on both sides, we can all get along, we just need to make ourselves known to one another.

Allahuma salli ‘ala sayyidina Muhammad wa ‘ala aali sayyidina Muhammed.

Comments are closed.