I went to bed shortly after 2 in the morning, yet suddenly awoke a few hours later, fully rested. (When stuff like this happens, I know there is work to be done.) Actually I sometimes know exactly what `work’ to do at that time–but other times I have to figure it out.) ‘Work’ today might be spontaneous puja, or silent sitting, or scriptural reading, or writing, or just a-thinkin’ about all of this, about all of us, or about You, Beloved… or maybe “work” today is cleaning the house, or walking the dog?
This day “the work” to be done was clear immediately: I am to bathe, dress and leave for first prayers of the day at the local masjid. Checking the calendar I find the proper timings; I have forty-five minutes.
It is freezing cold as I drive into the dark. I have ample minutes to spare should I get lost. (This is my first visit; however, finding no addresses visible before dawn I simply go to the building with the brightest lights, nearest to where I think the masjid should be located.)
Hmm, nice lights but wrong building, still it served, because a tiny sign at the door says it is a park office and indeed the address number on the business card is just west of where I want to be. To the east in the dark is a smaller, empty. lightless building. The doors are locked. No bell. It is twelve minutes to the first prayer of the day, Fajr, dawn.
I walk around the building and find a rear entrance facing north. This area is well-lighted, with space for many vehicles, but these doors too are locked. No doorbell. I return to the front and sit in the car in the dark to consider The Presence.
Time passes…Since no one but me came for Fajr–dawn prayer–perhaps people will come for Shorook, the sunrise prayer timing?
I sat in silence. (I could not read in the car as I did not bring any Koran with me, as some translations are offensive to various sects and I did not know what edition was preferred at this masjid.)
Soon enough I become aware of a car approaching from a distance and then passing behind me, then another, so I open my eyes and leave the car to go again to the northern entrance. Sure enough, two brothers have come, each in his own car, both for Shorook, but this is odd: now it is only 6am and Shorook is scheduled for 7:01am…
A man whom I later come to know as Mahmood is first to open the northern entrance doors, and I am invited inside with “as-salāmu ʿalaykum” and a firm handshake. The room is suddenly well-lighted, with a plush brown carpet, and two exquisite prayer rugs, one over the other, set before a lecturn facing the congregation, to indicate which direction sights Mecca. As more men come, each bows to Mecca and says a small prayer just under my hearing. Each looks at me, but only one or two men ask how they can help me acclimate. It does not feel like they are shy or mean, just introspective–each in his own heart focusing deeply upon Him Who Is Ever Here.
A tall bear of a man arrives in white, and is greeted by each person with affection and respect. I soon learn he is Omar, mullah of this masjid, and it is he who offers the morning prayer aloud. (All here speak Arabic, except me.)
Discretely and kindly I am then shown by men to my right, Sayeed and to my left, Fareed, how to take my place standing within the congregation for formal prayer. We men stand so close together, our shoulders touch, and I feel communion forming as the mullah sings of the LORD , The One, The Only, The Absolute, as we of the congregation bow and then kneel and rise together in unison again and again to honour (and to submit to The Will of) The LORD of the Universe, as the mullah sings.
As many men also soon leave to go to work, only six of us are now present. I tell Omar what Sayeed said, and he smiles as the others chuckle. Omar kindly and softly (so soft a voice from this big man) telling me that I do not `have to speak’ to him, but rather he gets to speak with me, to remind me and all the other men here today that Islam means surrender to the Divine, and that this surrender takes place in the heart, for Islam is of the heart, and Allah looks to the heart of each of us.
I like him.
We six men form a circle and then take turns reading from Qur’An ( I am given a version with English and Arabic, by Fareed, taken from the masjid shelves of holy books.) We consider Sura 23 A52-64, as shown above. In English I ‘recognize’ these words, having heard what they describe many times (whether sung by Vedic seers or sadhus, or by bhikku, monk, by rabbi, priest, or pastor–always hearing that unique description in that very book made holy within each religion: The LORD is One.)
While we are discussing the import and purport of these few verses from Qur-An, it comes to me that The Prophet (PBUH) knew very well that words cannot contain The LORD, but word do help the Date Palm to walk in an apt direction to sight Allah in the heart. I sum up my understanding of that with this phrase:
“The Messenger goes where He is sent;
The Beloved comes where She is sought.”
Some of the men ask me to explain that, and as I do we become better friends as each considers whether my heart and intent is simple, vulnerable, and brotherly, or is hostile, evangelical, or arrogant.
At the close of the meeting, a gent named Fareed gifts me the same Qur-An from the masjid library which I was permitted to hold during our study group. (The frontispiece and text we studied, plus two other prayers, are pictured above.) This edition is by far the most wonderful translation and commentary I have come across in the forty years since I first sought fellowship among Muslims.
Today I have found my masjid.
GOD is Greater, always.