Monday I had lunch at the Islamic Center of Sioux Falls, one of two mosques in the city.
A client of mine what me to have lunch with some of the members, tour the mosque, have lunch, then observe a call to prayer.
I have been to the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, but more as a tourist. And in visits to Palestine, Syria, and Jordan, I’ve seen a lot of mosques.
I joined my friend Mohammed, from Palestine, and his friend, also named Mohammed, from Libya, as well as my client Abdul from Libya and several other gentlemen for a wonderful lunch of chaukba soup (a Libyan vegetable lamb soup that was exquisite), upside down platter (lamb, rice, and vegetables served together on a huge platter), salad, and sweet, honey drenched Middle Eastern cakes.
As soon as my dish or bowl was empty, someone would fill it up again. I love Arab hospitality!
I learned that the mosque has separate entrances for men and women and they worship in separate rooms Mohammed from Libya, an electrical engineer and one of the founders of the mosque, told me that when Muslims pray, they believe there should be no distractions. And being with the opposite sex can be a distraction or you’re trying to impress them. And in many Muslim cultures, men and women are very shy around each other.
In the men’s worship area, diagonal lines on the floor indicate where Mecca is and to provide for an orderly way to line everyone up when the 40′ by 40′ room is full of worshippers.
Interestingly, while most American equate Arab with Muslim, in their mosque, the majority of members are from Bosnia and East Africa. In fact, the imam or minister is from Ethiopia.
I stayed for noon-time prayers, which I observed, with permission, from the back of the prayer hall. It was conducted in Arabic (I probably know about eight words in the language) but found the prayers, kneeling, supplicating, and standing very peaceful.
Afterward, we talked about how the mosque gets along with the neighbors in this older Sioux Falls neighborhood (very well), how the mosque was first a church then a Jaycee’s club, plans for a new, larger mosque (all it takes is money), and a little bit about Rumi, the Sufi Islamic writer and mystic who, I discovered, is controversial within Islam (and one of my favorite writers.)
Mohammed from Libya asked what religion I was and I said Buddhist. He joked that for some reason, many Americans who turn to Buddhism later turn to Islam. We laughed and he gave me a Qur’an and said it was not recruiting but that it was a great book that everyone should read. He did invite me back for a Friday service, which is like their Sunday church service.
Other lawyers and judges visit on occasion as do church groups, Sunday school, and college classes. Mohammed from Libya said that one of the greatest attributes of American is their curiosity about others.
It was a lovely meal and a wonderful time together with interesting and caring people.