# 17 Islamic Center of Virginia:  Richmond VA

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This Friday at 2:15, I attended The Islamic Center of Virginia on Buford road. Admittedly, I had a bit of anxiety before attending.  I was disappointed in myself for having these feelings so I looked inside with an honest eye to do a little self reflection.  Within minutes, I realized that while absolutely irrational, I was apprehensive to trust the Muslim people based on the events of 9/11 and the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  I’m ashamed to say that the bias of the sensational media obviously had an affect on me.  I asked God to remove these unnecessary judgments from my heart.  I’m still working on ridding myself of these harmful stereotypes; hopefully that wisdom will come in time.

I pulled up to the mosque and found a spot right up front.  I sat in my car for a few minutes before going inside.  While wearing my mother-in-law’s pashmina wrapped around my head as a makeshift hijab, I discreetly watched as several people trickled in.  One man in particular kept my interest.  He was a tall fair-skinned man with a lengthy blond beard.  He wore a pure white robe that hung down to his ankles and a matching hat that fit his head neatly.   He was off by himself in a secluded area of the mosques grounds.  He stood under a Witchazel tree with its full yellow blooms, and gracefully moved about while talking on his cell phone. I was incredibly aware of his presence and intrigued as to how he became a Muslim.

Once the clock hit 2:12, I left the comfort of my car and started to walk inside.  I immediately found myself hoping no one would notice that I wasn’t a Muslim.  It wasn’t long before I learned that my non-Muslim identity was going to be clearly evident. 

When I walked through the doors, I saw a shoe cubby.  I took off my flats and placed them in.  I made a mental note that all the shoes looked like they belonged to men and wondered if I was missing something.  While I briefly pondered the thought a man approaching from my right met me with a very curious look.  I thought “he knows I’m not a Muslim.  I’m sticking out like a sore thumb!”  Just at that moment I looked over my shoulder and saw women placing their shoes in an entirely separate area from the men.  Embarrassed by my action, I quickly took my flats and hurried over.

My makeshift hijab

My makeshift hijab

Determined to not make any other obvious moves that would blow my Muslim cover, I made my way to the area where the service was being held.  It was one large room with several Arabic posters framed as art.  The walls were covered in two different shades of “it’s a boy blue” and a thick matching carpet covered the floor.  Everyone was sitting on it, with their legs crossed like children ready for storytime.  The men sat separately in the front rows, followed by the women and children.  Four chairs lined the back wall of the room. Before coming to mosque I called ahead to see if there was anything I needed to know.  I was instructed to sit in one of the chairs in the back of the room so I knew one of those four chairs had my non-Muslim name on it.  As I made my way, I touched my head to make sure my pashmina was still on correctly and not exposing my neck or hair.  I kept fidgeting with it, nervous that it would fall off and I’d be exposed.

I took a seat next to two ladies who seemed to be getting a Islam 101 by one of the Muslim women.  I listened in to see if there was anything I could learn but just as I did, a commanding voice came from the front of the room; and there he stood.  The mesmerizing man from underneath the tree outside was fluently speaking Arabic with an interesting accent.  He stood behind a wooden podium and kicked off the Friday service.  He’d read from their inspired scripture and then immediately followed it with the English translation.  His name is Ammar Amonette and he is referred to as “the Imam” among his congregation. The Imam’s message involved adhering to Allah’s laws concerning business dealings.  He challenged everyone to think of their business transactions with Allah’s godly desires in mind.  He read from the Qur’an and consistently gave Allah praise and his messengers blessings for the great work they had done here while on Earth. When he spoke of the nature of Allah I found it comforting that Allah seemed to resemble my own God.  He was described as just and merciful, forgiving while being no stranger to serious punishment.  I watched as men, women, and children continually fell to the floor while praising Him.  I couldn’t help but be envious of the way they chose to worship.  They never said Allah’s name without thanking him.  They prayed so openly in such a submissive position: on the floor with their faces down toward the carpet like an infant child’s pose.  The women made public proclamations of their faith to everyone who could see them by their chosen dress.  Their lives were completely dedicated to Allah and they boldly humbled themselves before Him.  It was quite beautiful to watch such a loyal flock.  I thought briefly about how freeing it would be if Christians were easily recognized by the way they dressed.  If it was obvious who the Christians were because they had made public who they served.  Unfortunately for Christians, most of us are a private bunch with our religious matters.  While most Americans call themselves Christian, we wouldn’t physically show it out in public.  We don’t talk about it at our parties, just occasionally over dinner with our most trusted friends.  Mostly, we leave God to Sunday conversation.  It’s interesting that the anxiety I have about Islam spawns from the seriousness and intensity of the religion.  It seems that this seriousness is also what I like about the Islamic faith.  They do not take Allah lightly.  I think we could take a lesson from Muslims about what submission to God really looks like.  I think some Christians tend to be a bit proud in that department.

To conclude the service everyone who was a believer was instructed to stand up and join one another while they prayed.  It was a sign that they, as Muslims, would stand firm together out in the world as devoted children of God. It was also the nail in the coffin that exposed my non-Muslim identity to the congregation.   When the group left me behind to join in their special worship, a similar feeling arose that I had experienced at the Catholic church when not being able to partake in their sacrament.  That whole “us and “them” thing always makes me a bit uncomfortable.  And that’s even when I’m on the “us” side.  But, I didn’t design the Catholic or Muslims rituals so I’ll guess I’ll have to deal.

When leaving the mosque, I followed behind the two other non-Muslim women.  They took a creative route out as to not walk in front of the Muslims who prayed.  I learned it is apparently frowned upon for a non-Muslim to walk in their path.

When I got in my car and drove a way I started to peel off my pashmina.  Of course not before checking over my shoulder to make sure there was not a Muslim in sight.  The whole experience was certainly an interesting one. I hope more people take an initiative to gain understanding of this seemingly loving and faithful religion.

To learn more about the Islamic Center of Virginia, http://www.icva1.com/islam.html

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16 Comments

  • Kate Deaton

    Kate Deaton April 20, 2010

    I laugh, I cry and my heart swells with love and reverence each time I read your posts. Thank you, Jessica!

  • Tanya

    Tanya April 21, 2010

    I plan to do a lot of learning through you, so keep up the great work. Really fascinating. Thanks!

  • Kira

    Kira April 28, 2010

    Wow Jess. There you are. Its amazing to watch you on this journey.

  • Gavin

    Gavin April 28, 2010

    Let’s hope you don’t get censored like South Park.

  • Maureen

    Maureen July 02, 2010

    great post! Do u speak Arabic? How did u know what he was saying?  I find it interesting that in the States its easier for a non-believer to just walk in a mosque on service time.  Over here its a bit more difficult, and at most places non-muslims aren’t allowed in at all.  Muslims over here say that ‘westernized muslims’ aren’t true muslims at all for various reasons….

    Keep it up! Loving all your experiences wink

  • Jessica

    Jessica July 02, 2010

    Ha!  No, I definitely do not speak Arabic.  Boy I sure wish I did though.  I have been thinking long and hard about learning Hebrew, but it’s quite a commitment and I’m a little concerned i won’t be able to follow through.  The Imam spoke in Arabic and then translated it in English afterwards.

    I’m glad you’re enjoying it!  I am definitely liking your honesty on your blog as well. It’s refreshing!

  • J.T.

    J.T. July 10, 2010

    Hi Jessica,

    I’m a first timer here on your site. So, I wanted to start off by thanking you for being open-minded about this whole Islamic experience. And, I think it’s awesome that you decided to do this one year project, in fact you have inspired me to go out and do my own type of project (hmm, so many choices).
    Just a quick correction about when you said, “When leaving the mosque, I followed behind the two other non-Muslim women.  They took a creative route out as to not walk in front of the Muslims who prayed. ** I learned it is apparently frowned upon for a non-Muslim to walk in their path. **”
    Actually, it is frowned upon for anyone (non-Muslim and Muslim alike) to walk in front of another while praying. I guess you can relate it to a Christian nightly prayer before you sleep with your elbows on the bed (kinda like in the movies) and someone just jumps on the bed. It’s disrespectful and therefore frowned upon.

    Keep up the GREAT work.

  • Jessica

    Jessica July 10, 2010

    J.T.

    Thank you SO much for your comment and for the insights. If you do initiate a project please let me know. 

    I’d love to hear about your experiences and cross reference anything interesting you might find here on 52 prayers.

    God Bless,

  • Andrew Pearce

    Andrew Pearce January 19, 2011

    Jessica, I am happy that you visited the Muslem Mosque. I think that we have a lot to learn from Muslems. Most of what we understand has been fed to us from the Media. But the Media is controlled by those who wish for us to think like they do. In all actuallity, the majority of Muslems should not be associated with those radical extremists who were involved in terrorist attacks. I have found a very welcome spirit when I go to worship with the Muslems near me. We feel free to kneel with them and pray with them. We are provided translation of what is happening, what each gesture means, what each word means. It is all in glorifying Allah. I have been studying Islam, as I am very interested in serving as an Ambassador for my church to the Muslem faith. Incredible things are happening, but I dare not post them here. But one very fascinating thing I have recently found is in linguistical studies. Many people are offended that the Muslems worship Allah, and not God. But we first need to realize the very close relationship between the Hebrew language and the Arabic language. Many of the words are the same. Navi is prophet in both languages. They are very closely related. The word for God in Hebrew is Elohim. When speaking about the true God, not an idol, it always uses Elohim, which is a plural noun. So when we are reading in the Old testament and come across God, it is a plural word, which clearly supports a trinity. The word for the creator God in Arabic is Allah. The words Eloh and Allah are undeniably identicle. The difference in Elohim and Allah is that the Muslem believes God is one. When placing “im” on the end of Eloh, the Hebrew language is identifying a God who is more than one. Thus, when the Muslem is addressing Allah, it is the same as the Christian, or Hebrew addressing Elohim, but with slightly different understandings. An in depth study of the Qu’ran shows that the Muslem belief in Allah is the synonymous character of Ellohim to the Hebrews. More fascinating than this, is that there were Christian groups who used Allah to address the creator God before the birth of Mohammad. This is heavy food for thought. Blessings! Andrew:)

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