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Since childhood, I have had an interest in understanding how different the Islam religion is to Christianity. Of particular interest was the nature of prayer services in Sunni Islam mosques that are held every Friday. I have always wondered whether the services involved sermons, among other common things such as singing of hymns, as is the case with most Christian church services, or simply entailed praying and then departing for home. The curiosity to know and understand more about the history and practices of Sunni Muslims, prompted me to visit their worship center to acquire more information. Prior to that, I had to find a suitable mosque near me that had a seemingly free-spirited Imam that would engage all my questions, and probably invite me to observe the on goings during a service. The most suitable option was the Masjid Miami Gardens Mosque, in Miami. To gain audience with the Imam, I framed a simple email message, requesting him to visit his mosque and conduct a simple study on Sunni Islamic model of worship. Fortunately enough, his response came in less than two days, welcoming me to play an observatory role. With gratitude I wrote back with a clarification of the most convenient date for the visit, to which he suggested dates between the 1st and 15th of October. I chose to visit on the 13th of October, giving me ample time to prepare and research on the religion.
On 13 October 2017, I visited the mosque and I was welcomed warmly. In my first meeting with the Imam, I enquired whether it was okay to take notes to use in my class project. The Imam was flexible and told me it was ok to take notes, as long as I was to put them into positive use. Concerning dress code, he advised I come wearing a white “thobe”; a long white robe worn by men during Friday services. The Mosque members comprised of Sunnis although an ignorable number of Shia Muslims also attended.
Sunni Islam is the largest denomination of Islam. The name comes from the word Sunnah, which referred to the exemplary conduct of the religion’s founder, Prophet Mohammad. The controversial opponent of Sunni Islam religious believes is Shia (Denny 234). The differences between the two arose over the choice of the true successor to Muhammad.
Sunni traditions hold that the prophet did not really select a successor and the Muslim community acted according to his character in selecting his father in law, Abu Bakr, as the successor. The Shia denomination on the contrary hold that prophet Muhammad chose his cousin, Ali ibn Abi Talib, to succeed him (Denny 235). Ali hailed from the same clan as Muhammad. The Shias consider him the favorite close blood kin of Muhammad; hence, he was ideal to occupy the first caliph position. The clearly cut religious differences between the two belief systems have ushered political tensions for centuries, which at times bust into interdenominational wars. Islamic history holds a number of wars between the two sects and to date some tensions and hostilities still exist.
By 2009, Sunni Muslims had a roaring following of 87 to 90% across the world’s Muslim population. In Arabic, the followers bare the name ahl as-sunnah i-jamaah, which means the people of Sunnah and community (Denny 240). Sunni tradition ponders on the Quran and the hadith as well as a binding juristic consensus across its history. Sunni courts use the Islamic constitution found in the Quran, called Sharia, to make rulings.
The denomination is renowned for upholding the five pillars of Islam, which are; Shahada (faith), Salat (Prayer), Zakat (Charity), Sawm (Fasting) and Hajj (Pilgrimage to Mecca). Shia Islam also subscribes to these pillars (Denny 250). Every Muslim is required to visit Mecca, the first level holy city in Islamic parlance, at least once in their lifetime. The Quran directs the manner and time related to ritual fasting as a compensation for repentance. The practice takes place in the holy month of Ramadan with full absence of food and drinks from dawn to dusk. Fasting is compulsory with only a few groups exempted. People with medical conditions such as those with diabetes, breastfeeding mothers, older adults, pregnant women, and pre-pubescent children do not fast. Should one be caught forcing these categories of individuals to fast, it would be quite problematic and dangerous.
Islam adherents are encouraged to share their wealth with those who do not have. The act, however, is more than just sharing, as it is a purification and growth act (Dowling and Scarlett 71). The Quran also views charity as a way of easing the economic hardships to others as well as striving to achieve equality. The act aims at achieving balance and encouraging new growth. One must spend a portion of his wealth to benefit the poor, travelers, and debtors. There are five principles of giving Zakat. These are distributing it from the community of its origin, submitting it on the day it is due, declaring Allah as the intention of giving, and paying in kind. Charity is fair when offered through good deeds for those who have less money. Payers must shun exaggerations (Dowling and Scarlett 80).
Prayer (Salah) is an important component in a Sunni Muslim life. A staunch Muslim should pray a minimum of five times per day. The prayers occur according to time conducted. These are Fajr (dawn), Dhuhr (noon), Asr (Afternoon), Maghrib (evening), and Isha (night). One recites these prayers while facing Mecca, after wudu, a purification done before prayer through washing hands and face (Dowling and Scarlett 85). The participants also bow with their hands at the knee region, standing, prostrating, and sitting in a classified position. Sunni Muslims can perform their prayers anywhere. However, the mosques are highly preferable as they allow fellowship.
Every Sunni Muslim should declare his/her faith and trust in only one God, called Allah, and that Muhammad is Allah’s messenger to the people. Shahada is a simple statement recited in Arabic even if one is from other language groups. In English, it reads, “There is no god but God (and) Muhammad is the messenger of God” (Karas 102). Muslims thus believe in one Supreme Being.
About marriage, a man should marry a maximum of four wives as long as he can take care of them. Women must submit to their husbands, as they shoulder the highest authority at the family level. The husband is free to discipline dissenters within the family, even through a beating.
We can do it today.
The day finally came, and I looked forward to experiencing a complete Islamic Friday service, fulfilling a lifelong dream. I woke up early, aiming to be at the mosque by the time the first prayer commenced at dawn. However, due to unavoidable circumstance, time flew by and by the time I arrived at the most, the prayer had ended. I thus took the opportunity to walk around the permitted sections of the mosque, absorbing it unique architecture and rare Arabic aura. The grounds have well layered out building and sections that promote prayer, learning and relaxation at the same time. This was a far much modern experience of the Islam religion than I had come to expect. The mosque embraces advancements in technology and the changes taking place in the world, without forgetting the history and traditions of the religion.
At 8.00am, I joined the congregants in what was the morning service. I tried my best to blend in with the crowd, to get a better view of the process involved, without proving to be a distraction. The thobe helped a lot with this, but I noticed that I was missing the Taqiyah (the Islamic cap won by men). I sat in a strategic place at the corner where I could participate in the service and at the same time take notes. However, no one seemed to notice, or bothered by this. The service only constituted of men. As I came to understand, there is a clear segregation of the genders within the Islamic religion. Services for the two genders are held at different venues, and in mosques that do not have multiple rooms, they held at different times. As a consequence the direction and form that service takes is often different. This is because the religion clearly holds the two genders in different regard and thus the message intended for either differs. I would be difficult to hold a common service where the Imam propagates two contrasting messages.
Before the start of Jumu’ah prayers, the muezzin made an adhan, a call for prayer, which occurred 15 to 20 minutes before the start of the services. It was ideal for alerting people and reminding them that the Jumu’ah is about to start. The range of 15 to 20 minutes allowed the worshipers to prepare and travel from their residents to the mosque. Meanwhile, the Khatib (preacher) took his position at the minbar and made the second and final adhan.
The preacher welcomed everyone. The service kicked off with a high voice amplified by powerful speakers. Everybody bent their knees and later had their heads on the ground supported by hands. Khutbah, a sermon that occurred after prayers began. Each person took a turn in prayer, one after another, until a huge percentage of the members had participated. The prayer served convention purposes. Shortly after, the first, and the lengthiest, sermon commenced. Everybody was busy listening and their faces communicated a clear range of touch and embraced the message. The message was about trusting in only one Allah, who created everything on earth with Muhammad as His holy prophet. The khatib was categorical in that everybody has to serve Allah. There was a general concession that Muslims should depend on their creator only. The khatib sat down. A deep silence engulfed the populated environment. The congregation remained seated too. At this time, everyone had a leeway to meditate the contents of the first sermon as they waited for the second one.
After about ten minutes, the khatib took the helm at the minbar, once more. The second sermon commenced. I expected a much different version of it but it was simply a mere extension of the first one. It focused on faith and obedience. Soon there was dua, which means call out or simply supplication. Participants took the great moment after prayers to present their problems and call out Allah to help overcome them.
with any paper
Most parts of the dua ware directly copied from Muhammad’s as recorded by his aides. They were much valued and painted holy. Dua is supported by the following verse: And your Lord says: “Call on Me; I will answer your (Prayer):” Quran, surah 40 (Ghafir), ayah 60. The khatib recited some parts of the dua and delegated the same duty to willing members of the congregation. Everyone crossed the eyes with both hands as the service went on. Soon the muezzin called for igamah, which was the start of two main prayers of Jumuah called rakat and solely made by the preacher.
After the service, I managed to meet the Imam. He was curious to know what I had learned. I was jovial and explained how much of a pleasure the experience. However, I needed to know from him why Sunni Muslims preferred attending their communal worship on Fridays. He told me that Friday is the day when the best Sun rises, as it was the same day when Allah created Adam, the first parent. Prophet Muhammad also asserted that whoever died on Friday had his/her sins forgiven (Karas 14). In Islamic terms, it is the holiest day in a week. While attending services, one was encouraged to wear the best clothes. That is why men wore thobe and women Burqa, representing holiness.
The visit was enjoyable. Nevertheless, the issue of wearing thobe was not familiar to me so I found it uncomfortable. The mosque bared green and white colors, with concrete as the dominant material from walls to the roof. Unlike other places of worship such as Catholic churches, mosques have less religious symbols. However, the portrait of Muhammad appeared in particular pockets of the premises. The head section appeared dressed in a round hat with balloon-like structures called turban. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) used to wear such a hat, and that is why he is drawn like that. It was a symbol of power and holiness. I realized that the cap worn by all men was a turban. The mosque structure also had such structures.
In summation, my desire to visit a Sunni mosque and gather information about the denomination coincided with my class field research that I recently undertook. Attending service at Masjid Miami Gardens mosque, one of the biggest mosques in Florida amplified my understanding of Sunni Islam, the manner of worship, symbols, and their philosophical meanings. I managed to familiarize with the congregation and most importantly, the Imam.
your paper for you
- Denny, Frederick M. Sunni Islam. 1st ed., Pearson, 2014.
- Dowling, Elizabeth M, and W G. Scarlett. Encyclopedia of Religious and Spiritual Development. 1st ed., Sage, 2016.
- Karas, Joe. The History of Islam. 1st ed., Sage, 2015.