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Positive Experiences at Mosques - A Non-Denominational Account

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muslim720

Positive Experiences at Mosques - A Non-Denominational Account
« on: February 05, 2018, 11:39:33 PM »
Salaam alaykum wa rahmatullah,

In order to accommodate brother Ibrahim's comments (regarding positive experiences while visiting mosques outside your denomination), I have started this thread so that we can share our experiences.

I have much to share but since I have initiated this discussion, I will behave as the host and offer brother Ibrahim the floor.

Brother Ibrahim, please :)

Ibrahim

Re: Positive Experiences at Mosques - A Non-Denominational Account
« Reply #1 on: February 06, 2018, 03:35:51 AM »
Muslim720 my brother, you're too kind :) Both for starting this thread and for offering me the floor. I fear that I may not be up to the task, but I'll try.

There's only one way I could open a thread like this, and that's by relating my experience in the holiest mosque of all, the Masjid Al Haram in the holy city of Makkah Al Mukarrama.

Where to begin? It's October 2012 and alhamdulillah I've had a good year in business, so the funds for Hajj are available. I'd been ill at times in the previous years, which made me think of death, so postponement wasn't an option. I could no longer bear being a stranger to my own holy places, so I was eager to depart.

The plane stopped in Amman and then continued on to Jeddah. Brothers started reciting the talbiyah as we were about to land.

On entering Makkah, the one apprehension I had disappeared: I had been concerned that the Saudi authorities might cause problems for Shia Muslims, but the reality on the ground was nothing like that. The stewards were mostly just young guys carrying rods who were visibly overwhelmed by the crowds, and nobody was troubling anyone else.

What could I say about the Masjid Al Haram? How could I describe the indescribable? Millions of Muslims all around you, gathered for the sole purpose of worshipping Allah; every emotion is visible on their faces, the tears of joy and rapture, the eagerness of those trying to get close to the Holy Ka'aba, the distress of those getting crushed in the packed crowds.

Every emotion is heard in their voices, brothers and sisters calling out their most sincere pledges, saying things they've wanted to say since childhood. Nobody is afraid to cry and many can't hold back the tears. It's as if you're experiencing life and death in the same instant.

All around are the fountains of Zam Zam water, the miraculous spring which quenches the thirst of all the millions of Hajjis. You feel like you've come "home" and you drink Zam Zam while watching the mesmerising sight of the Hajjis making tawaf. Just looking at the Holy Ka'aba is worship.
When you're making sa'iy between Safa and Marwa and when you're making tawaf around the Ka'aba, you won't want to be anywhere else on earth and you'll feel you're fulfilling your life's purpose.

When you try to touch the Holy Ka'aba, the crush becomes so intense that sometimes you can't make it. At Hajj time, the crowd is thick no matter what time of the day or night you go.

After a number of unsuccessful attempts, I stood back from the crowded area, made my niyyah, made du'a and then walked toward the Ka'aba saying bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim over and over. The previously impenetrable crowd parted like a knife passing through butter, and I made it straight to the Holy Ka'aba, moving along the wall to the Hajar Al Aswad. I managed to touch it, but not to kiss it.
Insha'Allah I will kiss it when I return.

This is all I can tell you about the Masjid Al Haram for now. For those who haven't been, go there. Today we are alive, tomorrow we are already in the grave. Go there as soon as you can.

muslim720

Re: Positive Experiences at Mosques - A Non-Denominational Account
« Reply #2 on: February 06, 2018, 06:33:52 AM »
JazakAllah khair for sharing that memorable experience.  I pray that Allah (swt) affords us all to visit the two holy mosques (in Mecca and Madina) and enable us to visit Al-Aqsa as well.

Coming to my experience, my first time at a Shia mosque was on a Friday.  A couple of miles from where I live stands this mosque which is in desperate need for renovation.  At the time of my visit, it was at the peak of its abandonment; nowadays, at least there is an active imam who stays there until they close the mosque at night.

I had (and still have) an Iranian friend who comes from a Shia family but he identifies himself as Sunni only because he learned how to pray the Sunni way.  He had urged me not to visit this mosque as it is viewed to be more on the sectarian side; he suggested I should visit another mosque which identifies itself as "non-denominational" (although it is a Shia mosque).

I am hard-headed so I decided to go anyways.  When I got to the mosque, it was closed.  I knew the place needed renovation and was in transition phase so I was not surprised.  I was there 30 minutes before jummah prayers.  As I waited in the parking lot, a car pulled in and parked next to me.  Three middle to old-aged gentlemen stepped out.  When they saw me, they asked why I was there.  I said salaam and informed them that I was there for Friday prayers.  Their faces lit up.  "Are you really here for Friday prayers", they asked.  I confirmed and they were elated to see a young person show up for Friday prayers; not just that but get there ahead of time and then wait outside for the mosque to open.  They showered me with endless blessings in Farsi.

I went inside and slowly but surely, a small crowd started gathering.  I noticed that I was not the only Sunni there.  Another brother came in (I reckon he was on his lunch break) and he was Sunni.  He walked in, prayed Sunnah (like me) and started making dhikr on rosary.  The (for the lack of a better term) makeshift imam delivered a quick sermon highlighting the lofty station of Imam Ali (ra) and we stood for prayers.

After we were done, the brothers to my right and left shook my hand.  I reciprocated with "taqabal Allah" and that was the first time I prayed Friday prayers in a Shia mosque.  I did not feel out of place for even a split second.  From that point on, I would visit the mosque every now and then because the word on the street was that the mosque would undergo major renovations and transformations; the mosque was (and still is) in desperate need of it and I blame myself first before pointing at anyone else.  So I got in touch with one brother and provided him my contact information (in case they needed volunteers). 

That was almost six years ago and while the renovation work has not started, I went there another few times, each time handing my contact information to a different person hoping that they would call upon me for volunteer help so as to give me a chance to earn some good deeds.
« Last Edit: February 06, 2018, 06:40:34 AM by muslim720 »

muslim720

Re: Positive Experiences at Mosques - A Non-Denominational Account
« Reply #3 on: February 07, 2018, 01:42:50 AM »
To keep this positive discussion going, I will narrate another incident which took place at the mosque the imam of which said that Imams (ra) are everything that Allah (swt) is but "a notch lower".  By the way, this is my favorite mosque of all the Shia mosques I have visited and despite what the imam said (regarding Imams) and how much I differ with him, I still have tremendous love and respect for this imam and his mosque.  From now on, I shall refer to this mosque as my "favorite Shia mosque", lol.  In due time, it will become apparent why this is my favorite Shia mosque.

They have a custom at this mosque (to keep it in line with their non-denominational approach) to have a Sunni attendant lead the Asr prayers right after Friday prayers (because, as we all know, Shias combine prayers).  It had been a long time that I had attended my "favorite Shia mosque" so I went there on a Friday.  After jummah prayers, they announced that brothers may pray sunnah.  A few minutes later, they requested a Sunni brother to lead the Asr prayers since it is their tradition (at this mosque) to switch it up; if a Shia leads dhuhr prayers, a Sunni must then lead the Asr prayers or vice-versa.  Now I don't combine prayers but this mosque is a good 30 miles away from home (so I figured I can rationalize being a traveler....plus I had much else to do throughout that day) and seeing that no one was ready to volunteer, I raised my hand.  The brother who led jummah prayer put the scholarly gown (whatever it is called) on me and called the iqamah.  I was sweating bullets all throughout - I was shaking the whole time - because of the magnitude of the task and as scared as I was leading a whole congregation in prayers, I really wanted to uphold the custom of my "favorite Shia mosque".  When I made tasleem, the brother was quite encouraging whereas all I could say to him was, "I don't think I'll volunteer again, ever".  He laughed :P

On another occasion, at the same mosque, I was waiting to pray dhuhr because I was in the area and then I had to go see a doctor.  Usually, I pray dhuhr in jama'ah and go through the motions with them when they pray the Asr prayers (out of respect...sometimes I make the niyyah that I'm praying sunnah, sometimes nafl, sometimes nothing).  When I return home, or when the time for Asr arrives, I pray Asr anyways.  I went to the imam (the one who made the statement regarding Imams being a "notch lower") right before the adhan and informed him that I was in a hurry; that I had to leave right after dhuhr.  I clarified with him that I would be leaving out of necessity, not because I want to disrespect their practice of combining prayers.  He had given me the rundown that combining prayers is a sunnah and I had already mentioned that it is done in outstanding situations so there was no need for us to get into it again.  When I said that I had to leave and had to run it past him so as to not come across as disrespectful, he looked at me and said, "you have the akhlaq of Aale Muhammad".  A huge compliment, however, I realized that he had received my message and received it well.  I prayed dhuhr behind him; thereafter, I gave him a smile, waved at him and left.
« Last Edit: February 07, 2018, 01:47:24 AM by muslim720 »

Ibrahim

Re: Positive Experiences at Mosques - A Non-Denominational Account
« Reply #4 on: February 10, 2018, 03:01:11 PM »
Al Masjid An-Nabawi, Madinah Al Munawara

After my brief account of my experiences in the Masjid Al Haram in Makkah, it follows that I should give a brief account of the Masjid An-Nabawi in Madinah. The Holy Prophet's(saws) city has a number of differences from Makkah; there are no rites of Hajj here and the atmosphere is more relaxed and much less crowded.

In Madinah you take things at a measured pace and savour every moment. I went to Madinah after Hajj rather than before and alhamdulillah this was ideal. It affords a well-earned repose for the Hajjis, who are bound to be exhausted, and represents the best environment for them to reflect on what they've just experienced.

Madinah is centred on the Masjid An-Nabawi which covers a large area - I was told that this current area actually corresponds to the original area of the city of Madinah itself. There is a part of the masjid with green carpet and I was told that this represents the original area of the masjid before expansion.

The green area, which is called Riadhul Jannah, becomes full a while before each prayer time, one reason for which is that the rewards for praying here are immeasurably high. You have to be early to get a space, and alhamdulillah I did on a number of occasions and managed to pray from this very special place.

The Holy Prophet(saws) is buried here and the mu'mineen come to give their salaams. When I was there, the Saudi authorities had created a lane which they were moving people through quickly, so it was not possible to greet Rasulullah(saws) except in passing, unless you were to do so from a more distant part of the masjid.

Adjacent to the Masjid An-Nabawi is Jannatul Baqi, where many of the sahaaba and members of the Ahl Al Bayt(as) are buried. Again, the authorities placed restrictions on greeting them and would reproach those who did so visibly. This presented a difficulty which did not prove insurmountable, la hawla wa la quwwata illa billah.

One of my most memorable times in Madinah was when I went upstairs to a section on the roof of the masjid. To my surprise this area was totally empty and I sat down with a Qur'an mushaf.
There I started reciting and memorising the first ayats of Surah Qaf, which I went on to memorise fully not long after I returned.

Now, whenever I recite or listen to this surah, it takes me back to roof of Masjid An-Nabawi, with warm November sunshine illuminating the pages of the Holy Qur'an.

I've been yearning to return to Madinah Al Munawara and to Masjid An-Nabawi. I pray that Allah grants me this soon.

Ibrahim

Re: Positive Experiences at Mosques - A Non-Denominational Account
« Reply #5 on: February 11, 2018, 10:11:11 AM »
Muslim720 Jazakallah khair, thank you for relating your amiable experiences above.

That "favourite mosque" of yours sounds like an amazing place. I travel quite a lot and I visit masaajid whenever I can on my travels, so insha'Allah I'll find myself there one day.

The brother's compliment on your akhlaq seems fitting. I think that if more of us learn good akhlaq and show a will to listen and grow, many more masaajid like that will come into being, Insha'Allah.

muslim720

Re: Positive Experiences at Mosques - A Non-Denominational Account
« Reply #6 on: February 15, 2018, 06:21:53 AM »
Muslim720 Jazakallah khair, thank you for relating your amiable experiences above.

That "favourite mosque" of yours sounds like an amazing place. I travel quite a lot and I visit masaajid whenever I can on my travels, so insha'Allah I'll find myself there one day.

The brother's compliment on your akhlaq seems fitting. I think that if more of us learn good akhlaq and show a will to listen and grow, many more masaajid like that will come into being, Insha'Allah.

If you find yourself in the DC metropolitan area, let me know and I will take you there.

Continuing with another story from the same mosque, let us go back to Thanksgiving 2012 (that would be November 2012).  The first ten days of Muharram, leading up to Ashura, coincided with the week of Thanksgiving.  On Thanksgiving Eve, the day before Thanksgiving (I still remember it was a Wednesday), I went to my boxing gym, got a quick workout, showered and then drove to "my favorite Shia mosque".

Driving on the highway which I consider to be the biggest parking lot (thanks to the traffic congestion) was a breeze.  With everyone gearing up for Thanksgiving and staying home (indoors), I cruised down the highway and was at the mosque within minutes.  I seated myself next to a gentleman who was later called upon to deliver a quick talk.  This man - I love him for the sake of Allah (swt) and more - went to the podium and talked about the story of the throne of Bilqees and how it was brought in an instant (due to faith and knowledge).

As he was returning to sit down, the imam (the same imam who made the "a notch lower" comment) thanked him and made a remark jokingly.  He said, "may Allah (swt) bless your father-in-law".  So I realized that this man is the son-in-law of the imam and next, the imam announced that the man (who just spoke, his son-in-law, in other words) would be starting an IT class at the masjid.

I immediately tapped on his shoulder, said salaam and introduced myself.  In Farsi I said to him that I was always interested in learning IT although I had just graduated with a Bachelors in Biology.  He asked me to follow him.  We walked to the library and past the library, he opened the door to his IT class.  Inside, he had routers, switches and other hardware.  He explained the class, his vision (which was nothing short of noble) and gave me the sign-up form; the last seat or opening was mine.  This was Allah's (swt) plan; a plan that would redefine and reshape my future.

In the weeks to come, I learned that this brother would teach almost 4 different classes on Saturdays (on his day off) from 7 AM till 8:30 PM at the mosque for free.  Seeing his pure intentions, dedication, patience and effort, I had to reciprocate.  Months later, I was the first student from among all of his students to get certified and then land a job.  He was so happy that he requested a copy of my certification and hung it up on the wall in our classroom inside the masjid. 

Last year, he started a VMWare class at his own house and I felt extremely privileged for having him call me for the opportunity.  He selected a few of his students (from his previous classes at the masjid) to come and learn the latest technology, virtualization....all for no cost to us.  He would even serve us breakfast (since our class would meet early Sunday mornings at his house).

Now, brother Ibrahim, you might see my line of thinking and way of approach (toward Shias) making sense to you.  I will not hesitate to defend my beliefs but in terms of association, I would rather be with people like this brother (my teacher and mentor) than with those who may call themselves Sunnis but make takfir on Shias (as a whole) and call for violence and hatred toward Shias.

It is my teacher's vision to rent out a warehouse (i.e., bigger space) and offer free IT classes to Muslims (he wants me to teach there and I will gladly do anything for him).  It might sound like playing favorites but I love him for this; he says that once we are ready to put his vision into action, any Muslim who walks in can pay a minimal fee or attend classes for free (if he or she is unable to pay).  As for non-Muslims, he wants to charge them one-third of what other IT schools would charge them for the same course.  He wants to continue with "sadaqa jariya" and he wants us (his students) to be a part of it.
« Last Edit: February 15, 2018, 06:30:40 AM by muslim720 »

heathen

Re: Positive Experiences at Mosques - A Non-Denominational Account
« Reply #7 on: February 15, 2018, 06:29:46 AM »
I still haven't been to a Shia mosque. Not against going though. There is one near me but all the other mosques in my county are Sunni.

Ibrahim

Re: Positive Experiences at Mosques - A Non-Denominational Account
« Reply #8 on: February 15, 2018, 02:53:05 PM »
Heathen, Masaajid are for Allah(swt) and I'm sure the brothers will welcome and accommodate you at any "Shia mosque" you make the journey to.

If you make the effort some time I'm sure you'll find it rewarding.

Ibrahim

Re: Positive Experiences at Mosques - A Non-Denominational Account
« Reply #9 on: February 15, 2018, 02:59:15 PM »
Muslim720 Yes akhi, I must say that your attitude is wonderful and may Allah guide you to all the best things through your open will to learn.

I also prefer to associate with those who are most sincere. One of the main problems facing us as Muslims at large is that non-Muslims often display better character traits than we do, and this is why it's heart warming to hear of accounts like yours above.

I've actually visited D.C. a number of times in the past. I'm not sure if I'll visit in the near future since I was in Iran last year, and that poses problems for entering the U.S. which I'm not willing to undergo at the moment.

Insha'Allah if my plans change I'll let you know :)

Ibrahim

Re: Positive Experiences at Mosques - A Non-Denominational Account
« Reply #10 on: February 15, 2018, 11:56:55 PM »
Sultan Ahmet Camii (Blue Mosque)  Istanbul, Turkey

This masjid is considered the major masjid of Istanbul and is one of the most well-known and celebrated in the Muslim world.

It lies in the heart of the historic peninsula and when you go there you'll immediately notice the nature of its surroundings. That is to say, it's directly adjacent to the Hagia Sophia, which was the major historic church of Christianity. When the Ottomans conquered Istanbul (or Constantinople as it was known back then) they converted this church into a mosque and it remained so until the time of Kemal Ataturk, who changed it into a museum.

There is some controversy as to whether the Hagia Sophia should have been converted into a mosque in the first place, since Muslims are not meant to violate the places of worship of the Ahl al Kitab. If Sultan Mehmet II had left the Hagia Sophia intact as a church, it would have sent out a loud message to the world that Muslim rule is benign and that Muslims are capable of showing respect and clemency even when they have the upper hand. However, Sultan Mehmet was a conqueror and not necessarily a statesman or a humanitarian and his actions may best be seen in this context.

The Blue Mosque is built in such a way that it challenges the Hagia Sophia for prominence, as if to outdo and outshine in an architectural competition between Islam and Christianity. It's said that Sultan Ahmet’s architect wanted to build the Blue Mosque with a dome larger than that of the Hagia Sophia but was unable to. As an alternative, he constructed it with six minarets. A problem arose in that the only masjid with six minarets was the Masjid Al Haram in Makkah which it was considered wrong to match, so to solve this problem he added a seventh minaret to the Masjid Al Haram.

Our brother Muslim720, commenting on another thread, has drawn attention to the tourist presence in the Blue Mosque. I can say that from my experience, it is a fully-functioning masjid and the tourist presence does not detract from this. The mosque is closed to non-Muslim tourists for a considerable period before and after each prayer time, so the tourists are inconvenienced for the sake of those praying, not the other way round.

Inside the masjid, the visitors are restricted to the edges and do not enter the main prayer area. If anything the tourist presence actually adds to the Islamic character of the masjid. The reason I say this is for considerations of da’wah: for tourists to see Muslims gracefully praying in a building which displays architectural mastery and artistic refinement is a strong contradiction of the negative stereotypes about Islam and Muslims. It's a sublime scene which shows Islam as a religion of conscience and civilisation. 

I went to the Blue Mosque a number of times on my most recent trip to Turkey and due to a favourable schedule I was able to attend Friday prayers there. The area for wudhu (there may be others) is on the side of the masjid which faces the Hagia Sophia, and it's an extensive area stretching along the wall, so the queues at the taps aren’t too long.

What did surprise me though was the sheer number of people attending the Jumu’ah prayers. I got there quite late and the masjid itself, despite being huge, was full with the prayer lines stretching way out into the courtyard. The khutba was still being read so all were sat listening.

The natural thing to do in this situation might be to simply take a place outside (the weather was fine) but I was determined to pray from within the mosque itself.
My experiences in the Haramain in Makkah and Madinah, along with the holy sites in Iraq and Iran, had taught me a couple of simple techniques for finding a space in a packed masjid.

If you walk in among the lines and keep going with your eyes open, then even in the most crowded environments you will eventually pass by someone who’s sitting in a way that he’s taking up slightly more space than he needs. A polite gesture to this brother will usually result in him moving to make space for you, and bi-ithnillah you will have found your place.

I did this and, as elsewhere, found a space in due course, alhamdulillah. The khutba was being read in Turkish and I didn’t understand it; maybe the khutba was read in Arabic before I arrived in which case I would have understood some of it, but in any case it wasn’t long until the prayer began.

The overall experience of praying Jumu’ah here was heightened for me by the large jama’at, which I wasn’t expecting. Just as praying in a small, close-knit congregation has its own particular feel to it, so does praying in a very large one, and this feeling can’t be known except through participation.

I would recommend for anyone to visit Istanbul, one of my favourite cities, and to pray in the Blue Mosque, especially for the Friday prayers.
I have no doubt that you will be happy with your experience.

 

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