Thursday, August 25, 2011

Night 23- The Heart of Downtown

Tiled artwork with the Names of Allah (DIC)
Already highly annoyed and discombobulated with Chicago traffic at 9:00 PM, well after rush hour, and then recklessly driving around the grided streets of Chicago's Loop district in search of rare, free street parking, I finally arrived at DIC, the Downtown Islamic Center. This five story building is Chicago's version of New York City's "Park 51" mosque, but without all the the negative media, and circumstance. It is also home to the head quarters of  The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC).

My former university campus is directly adjacent to DIC which made it super easy to attend Friday Prayer after class. I took the elevator with seven other people to the top floor. Thank God for the eight person rule; before people would pack the elevator like sardines in a can which caused major safety hazards resulting in rather uncomfortable jolts through the ascension up... or down. The attendees for prayers tonight were mostly business professionals working late into the evening hours, and a younger generation living in the South Loop, River North, and Streeterville areas.
Tarawih at DIC- Chicago
Rami Nashashibi
With just my luck, after Isha salah the Executive Director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), Rami Nashashibi, spoke that night. It is always a pleasure listening to Rami since he delivers his message from the heart and with much conviction. He gave a short address and then requested for the attendees to donate to help run IMAN's services to the community.

Shortly after, Tarawih began and was led by an old time acquaintance, Dr. Hafiz Kamran Riaz. If I remember correctly, Kamran completed his hifz in an incredibly short time of under one year. His style of qirat was almost exactly like Shaykh Sudais of the holy mosque in Makkah, while maintaining his own flare. He even said salaam at the end of each rakat how Sudais does- the first one with a normal tone, and the second one sounding like it's going down a tunnel. I don't know how else to explain it (Click here and you will know exactly what I'm talking about!), but just trust me on that one.

It's great to know that between concrete and glass high-rise buildings is a mosque, a place to get away from the the daily grind of life and to take a few minutes to realize our true purpose.
Downtown Islamic Center, Chicago

Night 22- Little Mosque on the Prairie

The "front" entrance
On the absolute fringe of what I consider to be the end of the Chicago sits a little mosque nestled in a strip mall between a US Marine Corps career center and a mathematics tutoring facilty in Plainfield, IL. Plainfield is infamously known as the northern most tip of "tornado valley" where in the early 90's tornadoes destroyed what little was built in this flat-landed town at that time. Up until a few years ago there was nothing here except corn fields which I why I refer to the Islamic Foundation of Southwest Suburbs as 'Little Mosque on the Prairie."

One might ask how can a fully functioning mosque be in a shopping center? Well, the Muslim Community here somehow managed. I had no idea where this place was so I called IFSWS earlier that day for directions. The phone did not go to the mosque but was answered by a Plainfield resident on his private mobile line. 

"When you get here you have to enter from the back entrance, not the front," He said. This should be interesting, I thought.

As I walked through the dark alley behind the plaza and entered through the back door, I realized that this was in fact the main entrance. The foyer is very small with a shoe rack the the left, a fridge directly in front, and two plastic wash basins, typical of what you would find in a home laundry room, on the left side for wadu. The main hall's walls were painted brown and the floor had beige carpet with white masking tape forming angled lines for prayer. 

Islamic Foundation of Southwest Suburbs
A very simple place of worship transformed for the simple act of prayer. Isha and tarawih was led by a hafiz in his upper 20's. He led salah in a voice which was in a nasalized, but soft, tone. There were only about twenty-five to thirty men here, and for the first time this month I noticed no women attendees. Some people refer to this center as a musalla, but to this day, and due to my partial ignorance, I really do not know the difference between a musalla and a mosque. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Night 21- Qiyamul Layl

Established in 1969, the Muslim Community Center (MCC) is known to be one of the pioneer mosques in the city of Chicago. I'm not sure if it is the first mosque here, but it most definitely feels so. Formerly an old theater hall, remnants of it's past are still visible today, even with cosmetic renovations.  A few grand chandeliers and a velvet, red colored stage curtain still decorate the main hall. I remember playing tag and hide-and-seek in the halls of MCC as a young boy while attending the occasional nikkah and "roza rakhayee" with my family. Not much has changed since those days- the kids still run around everywhere and create a ruckus of all sorts. As I made my way to the prayer hall, I had bumped into a few children springing and sprinting, and on the same token, a kid or two almost tripped me up!
After 20 years, Children still running around
Isha and the first ten rakats were led by a Somalian brother whose voice sounded a lot like Shaikh Shuraim. The last ten were led by another brother with a softer higher-pitched voice. Tarawih was led at a medium pace, but was completed in a shorter time than I had expected.

The Holy Quran states about Laylatul Qadr- The Night of Power, "The Night of Decree is better than a thousand months. (97:3)"... "Peace! (All that night, there is Peace and Goodness from Allah to His believing slaves) until the appearance of dawn. (97:5)"

Being the last ten nights of Ramadan and the possibility of Laylatul Qadr being the date on any odd night of the last third of the month, MCC hosts Qiyam ul Layl starting at 12:30 AM, continuing until Fajr salat.

I had heard incredible things about qiyam at MCC last year, and decided to try it out myself this Ramadan. A few of my friends from the suburbs also came through, and there was some time between tarawih and qiyam, so we decided to have a light meal at a corner cafe beforehand in preparation for what was coming next. 

The Imam covers 1/10 of the Quran each night in qiyam prayers divided into sets of two rakats each. That converted precisely to just a few minutes shy of one hour to complete only two rakats! Never before had my knees buckled standing before Allah Subhanahuwa Ta'ala in prayer. When it was time to go into ruku, I could barely bend all the way. The weakness in my legs and feet sent messages to my mind to just sit down, but then I got to thinking for a second. This is just one night, one hour, and I already want to give up. If I can't make it through this, how will I be able to face my Creator on Yaum al-Qayamah, a day which feel like fifty thousand years. This thought quickly put things in retrospect for me so I put my petty weakness behind and continued through the end of the second rakah. 

After the first set, Imam Feysal got on the mic and reminded us that this very well may be the Night of Power, and for some of the worshipers in itikaaf who were resting in the back to wake up from their sleeping bags. Imam Feysal is blessed with amazing qirat, a complete unique style of his own. He leads all twenty rakats of tarawih at Islamic Foundation in Villa Park, then treks the 30 minute ride back to the city at MCC to lead qiyam all while maintaining a career. I don't know how he does it!
MCC- Chicago
I poured a glass of cold water and chugged it down as I was contemplating if I should stay and continue qiyam for the remainder of the night. My excuses to leave eventually got the best of me and I decided to head back home- those rakats are really, really long! Hopefully next time time around I'll be able to continue the whole night, inshaAllah. 

Night 20- Jamia

My next blog website should be called "odd mosque transformations." The amount of mosques in Chicago in places and buildings where you would least expect is intriguing. Jamia Masjid on Chicago's famous South Asian business district, Devon Avenue, would definitely make that list. A structure that strongly resembles a parking garage has been transformed into a fully functioning mosque. To walk in one must climb a ramp, and wide concrete pillars supporting the roof are blotted throughout the hall inside. 
Jamia Masjid, Chicago

A trip to Devon is never complete without eating. Keeping this in mind, my two friends and I decided to break fast at the local mosque by my home, arrive at Jamia for Isha and Tarawih, then pick out one of the restaurants to have dinner part deux. We arrived at Jamia, and I went inside to check out what time Isha salat started. As I opened the door the smell of burning oud, whose scent immediately transported me to the streets of Madinah, filled the mosque. There was about a half hour to until the iqamah- what to do? Eat of course. We ended up at chaat specialty restaurant called Spinzer where I ordered the desi rendition of a snow cone, gola ganda- shaved ice topped with rose syrup, orange syrup, another green colored syrup, and sweetened condensed milk.

We got back to Jamia just in time for prayers. Dozens of wall fans set on high drained out the sound of the Imam. Either there was no air conditioning, or it was not working to it's full effectiveness. In my row there was a boy with unfortunately one, or maybe two cut limbs. I couldn't determine if it was just one because I did not want to awkwardly stare at him. Being handicapped, this boy still did tarawih sitting down... that is dedication! 
One thing I noticed about some of the Imams at predominantly South Asian mosques was that during their recitation they pause between every few verses which makes it seem like they forgot the next one. This gets me antsy, but maybe it is just the style they learned.  

Friday, August 19, 2011

Night 19- Another side of the Spectrum

This evening, I decided to switch things around a bit and visit a place that otherwise would not cross my mind to attend. I visited the Baitul Ilm Center in Streamwood, IL- a Shia led masjid. Baitul Ilm is one of the handful of Shia mosques in the greater Chicago area. This was my first time formally visiting a Shia center and I was quite ecstatic to say the least. Being a Sunni Muslim myself, a lot of questions come to mind when it comes to the Shia sect, their views, similarities, and differences which spark a great level of interest for me. I won't cover those, but rather my experience breaking fast with fellow brethren.

Pulling into the driveway, I was overtaken by the design and size of the newly constructed expanded complex. It reminded me of photographs I've seen of the Shah Mosque in Isfahan, Iran, with imposing arches decorated with inlaid small blue tiles.  I was already a few minutes late for my iftar (since I got lost on the way), but just my luck the Shia fiqh indicates the time for maghrib a few minutes later than in sunni fiqh, so I made it just in time to not miss any action. The foyer is beautifully decorated with colored marble flooring and mahogany wood encasing the walls from floor to ceiling. I heard the maghrib adhan and quickly entered the prayer hall.
Men's iftar held in the original building

Maulana Sulayman Hasan Abidi advising
After maghrib salat, separate arrangements were made for the men's iftar in the adjacent original building of Baitul Ilm and in the lower level banquet facility for the women. The smell of Biryani which filled the air outside led me and the other hungry men to the food. After the first few spoons of the delicious fare, Maulana Sulayman Hasan Abidi pulled out a chair across from me and sat down with his food. I had made prior arrangements with him a few days earlier for a personal tour of the facility. He is a tall, soft spoken, considerably young Maulana currently pursuing his Doctorate in Near Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago and shares his duties with the founder of Baitul Ilm, Maulana Faezi, whom I also had the opportunity to speak with over the phone prior to my visit. We launched a conversation and I got to learn more about him, as he was also asking about me. He struck me as a very approachable individual and this was just the case- he seemed to know everyone on a first name basis. Throughout my time with Maulana Sulayman, members of the mosque continually approached him with their salaam and questions- from elderly men to a four or five year old boy.
The Dome

After iftar, he acquainted me about the original facility and then guided me into the new building, which I should add had been constructed "green" using environmentally friendly materials. Currently, the interior of the eastern wing of the complex consisting of a library and classrooms is still under construction so he showed me the new prayer hall and basement which were officially inaugurated almost two months ago. As I walked with him, his long, black cloak resting on his shoulders gracefully breezed behind him through the halls. He discussed with me the different aspects of the masjid and Shia belief, as well as the future goals which Baitul Ilm is in the midst of acquiring. The prayer hall is a large space, and a magnificent dome with a calligraphic verse from Surah Baqarah around its circumference floats in the center. As we continued to converse, Dua al-Iftitah (a special dua which Shia Muslims recite every night in Ramadan) was being recited over the speakers and listened to attentively by fellow worshipers.

At this point it was getting late and Maulana Sulayman had to get back to his duties so we bid our farewells. He invited me to visit again after the full completion of the center, and I hope, inshaAllah, that will be soon!

Main Entrance Foyer

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Night 18- Three Cups of Tea

Finding a mosque on a street named "Industrial Drive" is just as difficult as you may think. The Islamic Society of Northwest Suburbs in Rolling Meadows, IL is nestled between office suites and warehouses and if it weren't for the line of cars turning into this mosque, I would have been driving up and down this road several times looking for it.

I arrived a bit early so I decided to do some exploring. At the entrance of the prayer hall there sat a basket of about a dozen different varieties of attar oils. I definitely opened each one and tested them one-by-one. Outside of the main hall, there is a common hall where kids were running around. At the back of the building, they put up a Ramadan tent in which there were plenty of tables and chairs where they serve iftar and snacks during tarawih. I went into the tent and saw three or four clearly Hyderabadi elderly men sitting on a round table discussing not religion nor politics, but National Public Radio (NPR) in Dakhni Urdu. I noticed two tea percolators with the ready indicator light on and quite honestly could have gone for some light caffeine at the moment.

Ramadan Tent
"Chai ke cup-aah kidhar hain? (Where are the tea cups?)" I asked hesitantly.

One of the men pointed to the cups and continued bashing the guest that was speaking on NPR earlier in the day. This was by far the best cup of chai I have ever had that came out of a percolator. The milk was already cooked in with it so all I had to do was sweeten it up a bit. I sat down and sipped it until the Isha adhan began.
The orange/red henna-dyed bearded Imam led us in Isha prayers with a loud voice and to top that, the highest volume setting possible on the two giant speakers fit for a mosque on a street called "Industrial Drive." So loud that you could hear his heavy breathing in the mic as well. Tarawih was led by another hafiz with a softer, melodious voice which balanced out with his otherwise lengthy recitation. After eight rakats, a rather large bunch of men headed to the Ramadan tent while the rest continued with their prayers. It was like a second Iftar in the tent all over again with a comparatively festive mood with people nibbling on pakoray, samosay, sipping chai, and conversations. I made my second cup of tea and headed back to the prayer hall to finish up tarawih. After finishing witr, most of the people in the prayer hall proceeded to the tent to get their fried food and chai fix... as did I for my third cup of tea (for the road).

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Night 17- The Jewel of Hyde Park

I've driven by Masjid al-Faatir two or three times before and was in awe each time. I never expected a structure like this on the south side of Chicago! It's located in Hyde Park, notably known as the home of University of Chicago, and now more popularly as the location of Barack Obama's Chicago residence. It sits on a relatively busy intersection of the city and it's architecture serves as a work of dawah in it's own right. This mosque looks like it came straight out of Egypt, Syria, or Pakistan. As you pass by, you can't help but notice two gleaming minarets towering over Hyde Park.
Masjid al-Faatir
Interesting background: This masjid was built largely in part by world champion boxer and legend Muhammad Ali and his manager Jabir Muhammad. Jabir Muhammad was the son of Nation of Islam leader, Elijah Muhammad. He was the chief business manager of the Nation and and chief adviser to his father, but in his later years became a strong supporter of his brother Deen Muhammad and followed him back to mainstream Islam.

I entered through the golden/brass Arabic inscripted doors to be welcomed by an African American brother; he was sporting a brown and green Kufi and dawning a thobe falling halfway down below his knees, chewing his heart away on a big piece of miswak.

"Asalaam Alaikum Brother." He shook my hand more firm than anyone else had before. 

I quickly slipped off my sandals and headed straight to the prayer hall. It's octagonal in shape and relatively simple from the inside with hunter green carpet. All is pretty basic- except for the mihrab. Tiny, colorful marble and granite tiles mosaic the mihrab in a Moroccan or Turkish style.

I was impressed by the diversity of the congregation. Never before had I seen such variety and mix of cultures in one masjid. Black, White, Hispanic, Saudis, Indian, Pakistani, Syrian, Eastern European, etc etc. Most of them were either students of U of C, resident doctors in scrubs from the area hospitals, or the common Hyde Park resident. 

We Finished Salat al-Isha and the Imam of the mosque addressed the congregation on some of the virtues of Ramadan, specifically the last ten nights and Itikaaf, then inviting everyone for Itikaaf at Masjid al-Faatir.  Tarawih was led by two young (maybe 16 or 17 years old) hafiz; their striking resemblance and similar clothing led me to believe they are brothers, mashaAllah. One led the first eight rakats and the other brother led the remainder. Both had exceptional qirat, but on the same token, also completely different from each other which was quite gratifying for the listener. 

I can not imagine how a passer-by can walk past this mosque and not want to know more about it. I hope the sight of this center effects and sparks an interest in Islam by others. May Allah (SWT) bless Muhammad Ali and Late Jabir Muhammad for their sadaqa jaariya contribution to Chicago

Night 16- Nothing Much...

15 mosques down, all from the suburbs. There's got to be a few more around here before I start trekking to the city. I sat thinking for a while where I can go tonight with a limited amount of gasoline left in my car and finally decided to attend the American Islamic Association mosque in Frankfurt, IL. It was a pretty simple night- no interesting encounters, no unique individuals. Maybe because it is the middle of Ramadan and the "first week fervor" sadly died out in mosque attendance. Just a relatively calm night of ibadah. This mosque was built on a wooded lot a few years ago serving the community in the far southern suburbs of Chicago consisting of a few classrooms, banquet facility, and the main prayer hall. It's one of the fewer ones that I noticed that did not have a completely separate women's hall as most newly constructed ones do, but instead the few last rows reserved off for ladies.

Another different thing, maybe a design flaw, was that there was no bathroom or wudu space on the main floor. It was downstairs by the banquet hall. It didn't seem all that convenient but that's just my opinion. Tarawih was alright, no elaborate qirat, but the Imam still got the job done either way. Other than that, I actually don't have much to comment on... sorry to dissappoint! Although the chandelier was quite nice and the mural above it reminded me constantly of Ashyana Banquets.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Night 15- "Potter Masjid"

I thought I could get away with attending 2 different mosques on the complete opposite side of town from me in one night,  one for Maghrib and Iftar, and another for Isha and Tarawih. I didn't get a good scope of the Islamic Community Center in Des Plaines, IL (more commonly known as Potter Masjid) by just attending maghrib salah there, so I decided to go again tonight for tarawih as well.

ICC Des Plaines
Last week my friend and I arrived here about 20 minutes before the Maghrib adhan which gave us some time to get some Quran reading in or personal prayers. He decided to get some reading done, but I noticed 2 separate groups having a dars or halaqa and decided to listen in on one of them. The group I sat closer to was composed of  an elderly man reading passages from an Urdu book called Faza'il-e-A'maal. This book contains several stories and hadith of the Prophet Muhammad Salalla alaihi wasallam,  and stories from the Family and Sahaba radhiata'ala anhum. It's a great book and I need to get my hands on an English translation of it. For some reason hearing stories and narrated hadith in Urdu seem to have a stronger effect on me versus English. The point comes across... I don't know... 'more strong,' for a lack of better words. They do this every night for a half hour before Maghrib time. 

A man approached the microphone and announced"Iftar ka waqt ho chuka hai, aap apna roza kholdiyejega," (It's now time for iftar, you may now break your fast). My friend and I have this long-time bad habit of looking at each other and letting out an ignorant chuckle/laugh when we come across things that aren't 'normal' to us. In all of the mosques I've been to, the adhan is the indicator that it's time to break our fast- not someone announcing it in Urdu. But forget all that, it's time to concentrate on these juicy, succulent medjool dates screaming EAT ME!

I find myself here a week later for tarawih. The Imam took his sweet time in leading prayers. This had been the longest thus far for tarawih. It was great that he took the time to correctly pronounce everything though. Actually, his tone kind of even sounded like Shaikh Shuraim of Makkah which was pretty cool. The men's prayer hall is oddly divided into 3 parts by glass walls and doors, but I guess this would work out in such cases when a dars is in session in one section, while others would like it quite for their prayers in the main hall.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Night 13- Misk

You know you've gone too far away from Chicago once you take a highway exit and the surroundings look like any exit off of I-94 in Michigan on the way to visit family in Detroit. I didn't know what I'd expect going here since I hadn't hear much about this mosque. My GPS finally led me to arrive at my destination, the Fox Valley Muslim Community Center in Aurora, IL. I was driving around the mosque and didn't even realize I was here. The outside looked like a very large home in an old neighborhood with brightly lit landscaping and accent lights all around. I got closer and finally noticed the architecture shaped as an 8-sided star.

This is probably one of the most peaceful, soothingly simple mosques I have been to yet. It has a considerably good sized prayer hall that can most likely fit 300 worshipers. Well lit from the outside, I was expecting the same inside but this was not the case. There were only 2 bulbs in the mehrab dimly illuminating the prayer hall. You could barely see anything towards the back of it. As I entered the hall I heard quiet chattering of women towards the back, but didn't see any even though there was no physical partition. That is how dark it was. I sat in the front where there was little light and tried to assess and size up the place. From what I could make out of it I would imagine this place is very peaceful in the daytime with sunlight pouring through the rather large arched windows all around.
Dim setting
 A few plush pink colored Persian rugs lay on top of the regular peach color berber carpet, creating a cooling effect on the eye. Being very dim, I couldn't really make out from which part of the world this community  is composed of, but from the mix of kurta paijama clad Urdu speakers and Arabic emitting from those in thobes I assumed they were half South Asian and half Arab. I was hoping during prayer they would turn on few more lights so I could put this puzzle together better and eventually they did- only 2 more additional bulbs.
2 more lights
Tarawih was led by a young hafiz, maybe 19 or 20 in age. We started Isha at 9:45 and ended 20 rakats of tarawih by 10:30, pretty quick by most standards.

After prayers were over I was heading out to my car and noticed an Egyptian family huddled in a circle. A man from the group saw me walking and approached me,

Man- "Open your hand."

Dumbstruck, I opened my hand no questions asked and he applied something on it with the consistency of dried up lotion on the tip of a pump on a lotion bottle (you all know what I'm talking about, I hope).

Me: "What is this?"

Man- "Misk. Ramadan Kareem."

And that was that. I smeared the substance on my hands and within it I felt granular smaller round solids. Both of my hands amazingly never felt this soft, softer than a baby's skin, or smelled this good. I got in my car and quickly googled what misk was. The only results coming up were of musk, so maybe this was a different pronunciation of it. I always thought musk was an oil but apparently it isn't. If not from plants, most musk is secreted from a gland in deer. I was weirded out for a bit, but then realized, "hey, this stuff works!"

Friday, August 12, 2011

Night 12- A visit to the Middle East

Earlier in the day my friend sends me a message saying "Bawadi iftaar tonite?" and I was sold. Tonight I had no intention for attending Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, IL (where a large number of Chicago's Arab community resides) because I was saving that for another night. For those not from Chicago, Al Bawadi is one of the more popular and great tasting Middle Eastern cuisine restaurants also in Bridgeview. It worked out perfect: a binge iftaar and dinner at Al Bawadi followed by tarawih at one of my favorite mosques in the area.

After overdosing on the variety of lamb, chicken, and hummus I could barely walk. We park at the far end of the Masjid complex and start walking towards the entrance with the sound of what is being said inside is permeating all around. I love this mosque because it is one of the few in the United States, most likely the only in Chicago, where the adhaan and salat are both broadcasted live over loudspeakers outside on all sides of the building, giving the feeling of being in a Muslim country where it is the norm. Being a predominately Arab neighborhood and community I guess it works out since maybe 85% of the residents on the streets around this place are Muslim families.
Mosque Foundation, Bridgeview, Illinois
The Mosque Foundation has several silver domes on all corners of the building and a minaret emerging from the middle illuminated with green lights. The center consists of the original prayer hall, an even larger extension to the main hall, and towards the back is a considerably large ladies prayer section. Initially I sat in the main prayer section looking up at the chandelier swinging ever so gently a few inches back and forth due to the ceiling fans. For Ramadan, all three sections are filled with Muslim men for Isha and Tarawih and I suppose the ladies pray in the basement section or maybe the 2nd floor. I'm not sure what is on the second floor, but guessing the women's section would be in either. I would say easily over 1000 Muslims were in attendance which is great for a Thursday weeknight, mashaAllah.

Main Prayer Hall
My two friends who came along for Bawadi and prayers and I finished Isha. At this point I'm slipping deeper and deeper into a food coma. I hadn't eaten that much after iftaar all Ramadan long, but who could lay easy on Bawadi, and that too their iftaar buffet special. The longtime Imam of this mosque who also led tarawih had an injury. Due to this he had a huge cast on his leg, but nonetheless still managed to lead the jamaat in a chair, Alhumdulillah. All I thought was I wish I could sit and pray tonight too as I burped repeatedly. I can't even imagine how I would feel if I had Al Bawadi before attending the Albanian Islamic Center the night before (up down up down up down... read the night 11 post below)!

Burps and belching aside, I still enjoyed the Mosque Foundation. The jamaat saying Ameen after al Fatiha resonated through the walls, perhaps shook the building, and maybe echoed throughout Bridgeview for that matter over the loudspeakers outside. The people of this town and the surrounding suburbs are blessed to have this sprawling complex consisting of a full time school and an all-girls school in separate buildings for their children and the future generations to come, inshaAllah!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Night 11- A Taste of Eastern Europe

AlhamdulillahirabilaalameenarRahmanRraheemMaalikiyomiddeeneeiyanabuduwaeeyakanastaeenehdihnasiratilmustakimsiratilladhinaanamtaalaikumghairilmaghdoobialaihimwalladhaaleen. Ameen.

Did you try to read that in one breath? Well that's how the Imam at the Albanian American Islamic Center (Berkeley, IL) recited. Fast and in one breath! Before that, here's a little about the center itself.

I've attended probably a dozen weddings at this place growing up. Back then it was a simple place with white walls and a white drop ceiling. This was the first time in a few years I have been here and not only did they completely reconstruct the mosque, but they also have made a beautiful banquet facility. I heard many good things about "Albanian" since the reconstruction and couldn't wait to see it for myself- it did live up to all the hype. The prayer hall is huge, neat, and clean. It's not completely over done with marble and granite- but tastefully trimmed with cherry wood all around. Being an Albanian center all the announcements were of course in the Albanian language which sounds a lot like Farsi. We got through Isha as usual and it was time for tarawih.

We raised our hands to commence praying and before I crossed my arms, the Imam was already done with Surah Fatiha, or at least that is what it felt like. He recited the entire Surah all in one breath. Literally. I thought maybe he did this because he would cover a substantial amount of the Quran in each rakat, but to my dismay, this was not the matter. The Imam only read one verse before going into ruku. We were going through each rakat in our prayers this fast until the end. It reminded me of junior high gym class where we would do stretches, sitting down, standing up, jumping, and sitting down again (It was basically like this except the jumping). Also kind of like how I used to pray when I was 11 years old, up down up down up down to finish it fast. During the second rakah I thought "finally a little break sitting down." To my surprise the Imam gets up and continues this for a 3rd and 4th rakat. All of the mosques I went to only did 2 rakats each at a time, but here they do 4 at a time which is different from what I am used to.

After every eight rakats, they did group dhikr. Each time was done with chanting different wording. Every member in attendance participated in this- I found myself to feel as if I was in a Sufi Dhikr circle.

After tarawih and witr was complete, I finally recognized  a familiar face who I usually see at the Bolingbrook Masjid for regular prayers. Judge me later, but I always thought he was the staple "white guy" at a desi majority mosque. After meeting and introducing myself I found out his name is Flamoor and is Albanian himself. He lives in Bolingbrook, but told me he attends "Albanian" for tarawih since many people do not come here. In this huge prayer hall only three rows were filled which was also another difference from the jam-packed mosques the previous ten nights.

I wanted to meet the Imam and ask him about the differences in tarawih and to see if most Eastern European Muslims follow this way. After finishing salah, I went to meet the Imam as did everyone else, but he seemed to be in a huge rush and was already looking at the next person to meet as we shook hands. Maybe the whole Speedy Gonzales factor doesn't stop at leading tarawih...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Night 10- MECCA

Asalamu Alaikum. Tonight was night 10 of Ramadan. Alhamdulillah the first ashra of the month has past. It's crazy how fast this month is passing. For tarawih I attended MECCA. No- not Mecca, Saudi Arabia (if only) but the Muslim Educational and Cultural Center of America located between the Willowbrook and Burr Ridge communities. Being only 10 minutes from my home, today was my first time ever attending this mosque, and probably a mistake on my part. The feeling of this center was overwhelming with a sense of belonging and ownership. MECCA is currently on the first floor of a 3-story office suite building, tucked behind a Chase bank and next to a retro Kmart. The past few years have been difficult for MECCA as the township had denied their expansion efforts repeatedly, but Alhamdulillah now have legal permission to go through with their strife.

Facing the jamaah from the front at MECCA

Worshipers Continuing 20 rakat

The Imam who led at this mosque was great. Every verse recited was enunciated with conviction and a deep sorrowful tone. This was also the first place I attended this month where they added an echo in the mic sound system to add an extra dimension. I've heard this echo added in several urdu naats, but quite honestly I find it all more distracting.

Overall it was a great evening of tarawih, but I would have enjoyed it all more except one reason... the man praying next to me. We started prayers and went through the opening of Surah al-Fatiha when all of a sudden the congregation says ameen the man next to me busts out his cell phone. I personally try my best to only focus my vision in one spot during prayer, but what happens in my peripheral vision- well, that's another story. In every rakah he would take out his phone and fidget with it scrolling up and down with his thumb. My initial reaction to this was is this guy really texting during his prayers?! I couldn't believe what my peripheral vision was seeing!  Eventually there was a short 10 minute break after 4 rakahs and my intrusive self asked him what the heck he was doing. He smiled and looked at his phone again. At this point I thought he completely blew off my question, but then a few seconds later he shows me the screen and says he's following what the Imam is reciting on his Quran app. 

My mind had a bit of relief, but I usually have delayed cognitive responses- why is he reading what the imam is reciting on his phone? That's not..... it doesn't........ it's not.... well that's a whole other issue in itself!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A little late, but here nonetheless

Asalam Alaikum, Peace be with you, Hello!

After much self debate and remarkable support from family and friends, I have finally decided to try my best and document a new challenge I made for myself known as the 30/30 challenge in which I plan to attend 30 different masjids in the Chicago land area for Isha Salat (night prayer) and Tarawih (the special prayers specific to the Islamic holy month of Ramadan) this month.

I initially got this idea from two brothers, Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq, who began a Ramadan road trip in 2010 known as 30 Mosques 30 States, in which they covered 30 masjids across the United States in only 1 month. Having some extra time these days, but not much extra money to cover expenses of a 30 state tour, I decided to  have a micro take on this challenge and keep to Chicago.

Although I'm starting this after a third of Ramadan is over, I can hopefully still share my experience with you, Insha Allah. For now I am starting with Night 10 and will get around to posting about nights 1-9 soon!