From Where We Stand – Portland Masjid

Islamic Center of Portland

Dr. Cornel West recently said

I like to be multi-contextual, which is much more important than being multicultural.

I read that only a day before I visited a Mosque (Masjid) for the first time in my life. This was a heartwood trip. I’ve heard the call to prayer (Adhan) for years, I’ve even had a widget on my home computer blare out the call to prayer for about a year, much to the surprise of guests.

What on earth is my context in a Mosque? What is my context within Islam?

I’ve been wanting to find out, so I emailed Imam Mohammad A. Rahman to ask if a non-Muslim would be welcome in the Masjid. He was more than welcoming, so I hopped on a bus and got lost in Southwest Portland, a place not designed for pedestrians, or religious tourists. The Mosque itself is like a mini Islamic quarter. A tiny minaret, blocky cinder forms, and surrounded by streams of covered women and elegant, bearded men. I stepped right out of Portland and into the Arab world. Correction, Muslim world. Once inside I was surrounded by a buffet of humanity;  Indonesians, Nigerians, Egyptians, Caucasians, Somalis, Qataris, and me. It was cool in there, a gentle breeze drifting down from ornamental fans, and lit overwhelmingly from above by many skylights. It was like stumbling into an inner courtyard unexpectedly, and smelled literally of star jasmine.

The carpet had a prayer rug grid printed on it, so worshipers all had a place, perfectly sized for an average human. Mine was larger than me, naturally. I felt like a total infidel.

A young man covered in scarves that I used to wear (what an idiot I was) walked to the front of the room with his back to us and all the spaces quickly filled. He began his call to prayer, which breaks down like this:

  • الله اكبر  Allahu Akbar God is the greatest/most great
  • اشهد ان لا اله الا الله Ash-hadu allā ilāha illa llāh I testify that there is no deity except for God
  • اشهد ان محمدا رسول الله  Ash-hadu anna Muhammadan-rasūlu llāh I testify that Muhammad is a Messenger of God
  • حي على الصلاة Hayya ‘ala-salatt  Make haste towards the prayer
  • حي على الفلاح  Hayya ‘ala ‘l-falah Make haste towards success
  • الله أكبر  Allāhu akbar God is the greatest!
  • لا إله إلا الله  La ilaha illallah There is no deity except for God

During the morning prayer, this line is added in there:

  • الصلاة خير من النوم  Al-salatu khayru min an-nawm Prayer is better than sleep

You can follow along here, with one of the best Adhan’s I’ve ever heard, each line repeated twice, except for the last two:

After a few minutes, the room was completely full, with worshipers spilling out into the hallway on the floor, snug up against one another in barefoot intimacy. My toes were touching a strangers toes, my elbows imposing on another’s. This is church, I thought to myself, for 1.6 billion humans. Am I multicontextual enough to handle this? Why is this my first time visiting a Mosque? How dramatic will my mother be when she hears where I was today?

There were a series of events that I did not exactly follow, some communal recitals, some holy verses, and lots of standing and kneeling. No one paid me any mind, and I was free to check everyone out. The cute baby with fat brown cheeks and eyes for days, the floor length robes on young handsome teens, and the feeling that this room was basically as diverse as the UN. The Mosque was only a shell of what was inside of it, barely able to hold its gorgeous contents. There is no conclusion, I was just lucky enough to be allowed into such an experience.

After the half Arabic, half English sermon (is it called a sermon?) I was welcomed by about 15 different men in robes and plain clothes with warm handshakes and a hearty Salam wa aleikum. I responded hello back, and I usually got a wink. Several men then sat in the middle of the room leaning against one another with their children playing around/on them and visited. I was approached by a few more people who were curious about me before I decided to trek it back home and let these fine people enjoy their Friday after-service.

Being a pastors-kid and going to church my whole life, I know the newcomer program. Seek them out, shake their hand, use their name, and invite them back as authentically as you can muster. In no way did I feel like I was being asked to come back.

To me, this is a much more authentic approach to relationship. Either it happens or it doesn’t, you can’t be a fixer and begin a relationship to increase your coffers, because a relationship at root is whole, not a quota. We used to train our youth in the Christian churches that “it’s all about building relationships” without knowing what on earth they were.

What I saw in that place wasn’t really a building, but a huge, functioning human relationship.

There are many reasons Islam is growing so rapidly. I already want it in my life, and I’ve only spent 2 hours with it.

If the practitioners of the other Abrahamic faiths knew this, maybe we’d spend less time on protecting our walls and more on those relationships. I’d like to find more Mosques (figuratively, as in places I’ve not ventured) and extend my ability to be multicontextual. I’ve but to show up and be as open as possible. Surprisingly, I think I’ll find that most humans are wanting to be more inclusive than we’ve ever been in history.

As a great mentor of mine has presented:

Inclusion > Exclusion
Abundance > Scarcity

Take a sec and listen to this pilar of Islamic song, reciting the 99 names of God, with transliteration and translation, just follow down the list! Both open in new windows:

99 Names of Allahtranscript here, follow along!

4 Responses to “From Where We Stand – Portland Masjid”
  1. Rory says:

    Great post. I really appreciate the thoughts, ideas and experience you share in this piece.

  2. Aaron says:

    Thanks Rory, I told my mother tonight. She was surprisingly cool, and agreed with my decision to return. 2010, so far, incredible.

  3. Greg Miles says:

    I reverted to Islam 33 years ago. Thanks for your sensitive report on your visit to this masjid. Anyone is welcomed, any time. And, as you observed, there is no compulsion–whether you come closer or walk away is between you and Allah.

  4. Abdul Samad says:

    MASHA ALLAH my brother I hope you will enjoy even more better when you visit more mosque through out the world. I am sure there are many muslims waiting eagerly to welcome and teach people from other or no religions to show what we muslims really do or what we really are………..

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