A Visit to the Local Mosque


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We began our tour of the Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids outside, listening to Imam Hassan Mahmoud.

Cedar Rapids has a long history of Muslim residents, with the “Mother Mosque” of North American located here.

Yet, some Republican candidates in this volatile, strange election year of 2016 have been indirectly attacking our neighbors. Ted Cruz wants to increase patrols of “Muslim neighborhoods.” Donald Trump wants to temporarily ban Muslims entering the country. A recent poll reported in The Atlantic stated that a majority of Republicans don’t think Muslims should be eligible to serve their country in the U.S. armed forces.

It can be a discouraging time to be an American. Our constitution proudly proclaims freedom of religion, and Islam is one of the major monotheistic religions of our globe. And yet there are those who want to ban more than a billion people from our shores because of a handful of extremists.

When terrorists shout “God is great” in Arabic, they aren’t proclaiming true faith in Islam. They are insulting Islam, and we only join in the insult when we use their fringe actions as an excuse to disparage a large, diverse, multicultural faith.

In a recent interview, Secretary of State John Kerry said this of the Ted Cruz and Donald Trump and their anti-Islam rhetoric: Their talk “upsets people’s sense of equilibrium about our steadiness, about our reliability.”

“It’s clear to me that what’s happening is an embarrassment to our country,” Kerry said. (Source: CBS interview reported by Bloomberg News)

In that environment, the local mosque, the Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids, held an open house Friday for people from Mount Mercy University and Cornell College in Mount Vernon. There was a good turnout of people from the two mounts, with around 60 to 70 (I did not count carefully) students, administrators, faculty and staff there. I took part.

Imam Hassan Mahmoud gave us a tour, and took us into their prayer space, where he demonstrated and then translated the call to prayer. Later, if I get a chance to edit it, I’ll post a video of that. The sound was beautiful and spiritual.

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Imam Hassan Mahmoud speaks to visitors in the prayer room of the Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids.

During the call, Mahmoud proclaimed, in Arabic, that God is great. It didn’t sound violent, but like it should, like a prayer. As a Catholic, I didn’t think it was any kind of threat or insult—but the expression of a great truth that many faiths share. And in our country, it’s OK to feel moved by that chant or not—people who question faith or are sure there is no God might not react the same, but it’s America, and freedom of religion and freedom from religion are both personal choices we as a people endorse and accept. Or we should.

The Imam’s chant was an almost universal human spiritual expression that is sometimes co-opted by violent people. We ought not be too quick to play into the hands of those extremists by taking ill-conceived, unjust actions that will serve only to further polarize people—and create more extremists.

After all, the ISIS terrorists who kill the innocent are attempting to provoke in order to demonstrate that their hatred of the West is justified. In that effort, their political allies, their co-conspirators, are named Trump and Cruz.

Do we need to take careful, even sometimes violent, action to protect ourselves? Yes. Terrorism is a reality and must be strongly dealt with. But, what are the limits? Is it OK for us to forget our own ideals and behave according to our worst instincts—to behave as those who are our enemies portray us to be? Do we want to become jingoistic Crusaders who act as the Great Satan in the Islamic world?

No. A thousand times no. The message of faith—Catholic or Protestant or Jewish or Islam or Baha’i or Buddhist, etc.—includes a love for all humanity and a rejection of violence. True, not all the faithful see it that way. But just as we Christians aren’t defined by the Westboro Baptist Church, Islam is not correctly defined by ISIS.

Too often, we are pouring gasoline on the fire when the water of mutual understanding, of speaking with and trusting Muslims, the vast majority of Muslims who are not terrorists, is available.

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Visitors listen in prayer room.

It was a small thing, for us from our mounts to go to the ICCR. It was a small thing for the ICCR to invite us to come.

But it was the right step. And it did not embarrass anyone.

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