Iftar on Campus…Ushpizin

I fell ill with my asthma in VA and had a lot to do so I have had a delay in my postings. It was nice to see so many brothers I hadn’t seen in so long and I also enjoy being in the DC area. It is a pleasant place to live, like NYC, that can make one justify the outrageous cost of living.

This was a piece that I wrote after attending an iftar program the other night at Northern Virginia Community College….

Last night I attended a special Ramadan event and iftar at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria, VA. The event was attended by over 300 Muslim students and a number of interested non-Muslim onlookers.

The school itself is perhaps 40% Muslim and the MSA is by far the largest campus organization. One can find a mixture of skin-tight low-rider jeans and complete jilbabs and hijabs on campus and sometimes you can even find both on the same sister such as on young lady last night who appeared to have on a mixture of tight-jeans, a belly-dancer shirt decorated with what I can only describe as silver shingles, and a hijab.

Amongst the brothers you also had a mix of those who seemed more overly observant and those who looked like they were auditioning for the next Jadakiss video. Ethnically there were a lot of Somalis, all sorts of Arabs and a handful of South Asian Muslims along with several African-American Muslims. I was one of two white Muslims and I had a chance to meet a Bolivian woman who just became Muslim two-weeks ago masha’Allah.

The speaker was a brother named Kamal Makee whom I have known for years. He is a brother originally from Sudan but has lived in VA since he was a young teenager. For years he has been a student of the eminent Sudanese scholar Jaffar Sheikh Idris (May Allah reward him and his family) and Sheikh Ali al-Timimi and began teaching classes at Dar al-Arqam in Virginia which is now closed.

Kamal gave a wonderful lecture entitled “Why Islam” which I will try and get an audio of Insh’Allah. In this lecture he discussed the basic principals of belief in Islam and of the two extreme positions in Islam; one position is extremism in religious observance and the exaggeration of certain aspects of the deen and the other extreme position is to not observe Allah while still remaining in Islam or being sinful. Kamal stated that in America the only one that is considered an extremist is the one who is extreme in religious practice and the one who is extreme in the secular or sin is not an extremist. Islam is the middle-path, and what is the middle-path; is it the so-called modernist moderates today or does the Prophet (s) represent the middle-path?

The crowd was generally receptive, but more than a few were more concentrated on intermingling with the opposite sex, and in addressing this issue Kamal said “you know brothers think of the wisdom of brothers praying in the front at the Masjid. If the women prayed in front and bent over in front of the men the Masjid would be full all day and every day with brothers” which brought laughter from the crowd.

It is also amusing to note that almost all of the brothers, and many of the sisters, dressed in a hip-hop style and walked the hall as if they were walking towards mainline in a maximum security prison. These are immigrant brothers and sisters that come from middle-class (and even wealthy) suburban families who have never even seen the streets much less spent any time in the streets. However, one cannot be judgmental, because hip-hop has given these young people a message they can relate to and identify with as opposed to the voices they hear in mainstream American society. Islam is nothing strange in the world of hip-hop and Muslims can be found at all levels of the industry. Imagine a practicing Muslim like Mos Def being accepted in Country Music or modern rock.

Ushpizin

I also had the chance to seen an outstanding Israeli film last night titled Ushpizin. It is about the holiday of Succoth, where Jews build ritual huts to live in outside of their homes to remind themselves that they are only guests in this world, and it is traditional to have guests for such an event. The story centers around an observant couple who come from a rebellious background and their prayerful desire to have a son while they are interrupted in Succoth by guests from the main characters past who have escaped from an Israeli prison. It is an excellent film and I highly recommend it. One reason I like this film so much is that it does not seek to demonize religion, rather creates an understanding of the lives of observant Jews, and it has powerful messages of forgiveness and transformation.

Different Kinds of Iftar at Different Masjids

I have made iftar at many different Masjids over the years in many different cities. The crowds that you see at the various Masjids differs depending on what kind of a Masjid you are at.

For sake of simplicity I will divide the Masjids that I have made iftar at over the years into these categories; the African-American Sunni Masjid, the WD Masjid, the bourgeois immigrant Masjid and the ghetto immigrant Masjid. Each Masjid has its own unique method, flavor and cuisine but some things are usually in common. For example; most will have a large number of single brothers who cant cook and don’t have anyone to cook for them, poor Muslims who cant have a good meal at home and those Muslims who will at a big meal at the Masjid and then go home and throw down at the dinner table. Of course at some Masjids you always have the homeless brothers who come in and are like “Assalamu alaikum akhee where is the food.”

The African-American Sunni Masjid can be anything from a hardcore Salafi Masjid like in East Orange, NJ or Germantown Philly to a Jamil al-Amin joint to a place like Masjid at-Taqwa in Brooklyn where Siraj Wahaj is imam. At these Masjids stuff is usually more regimented and you better not go for seconds before your turn or the brothers from security will be ready to put in work. You can find a lot of fried fish and chicken usually with some form of bread and some spaghetti. Some Masjids have more than others; one poor Masjid I was at brothers only had cinnamon rolls and Ramen noodles (what they call Crackhead Soup in prison). One other Masjid only had chicken McNuggets and Snapple. The brothers and sisters will be completely separate here.

WD Masjids (those that follow the leadership of Imam WD Mohammed) tend to have the same kind of cuisines just with more greens. You always have some old pioneer sisters cooking in the back and you listen to the brothers coming in and swapping stories about Saviors Day in 1972. But when it comes time to pass the drinks these brothers always have the all-natural fruit drinks on hand like Omar on the Nile and that ilk. Whereas in the black Sunni Masjid you will sit on the floor at the WD joint you will sit at a table and there is a good chance you will have to pay for the plate and that the proceeds will go to the building fund. There will be free mixing of brothers and sisters and you may even get a sister run up to you and give you a hug or slide you the digits on the low.

If you go to the bourgeois immigrant Masjid you will find that iftar is given out in a very organized fashion ( unless you are at Dar al Hijrah in VA where there is a buffalo stampede after the Maghrib Tasleem), but the South Asian Masjids tend to be the most organized. You got your iftar samossa, dates and whatever else they will give you in a nice little box with a plastic spoon or fork and some bottled water. It feels more like Starbucks than a Masjid. You pray Maghrib at this Masjid and the imam usually recites two of the last ten surahs (the shortest) and then it is time to grub. You get a nice plate of food, that will include some salad, and it will be quite tasty; the only thing on the cheap is the ghetto soda they get which depending where you live could say Vess, C-Town, Tropical Fantasy or Bubbas on the side. You will notice that most of the Masjid leaders, or wealthy Muslims who sit on the shura and probably run it is a social club, are nowhere to be found as they are retreating to their McMansions for a big meal. You can expect meat and rice every night and if it is a South Asian place expect food that could heat up Alaska. The sisters are normally close to the brothers and if you are here, like I have been in the past, you may have some single brother sitting next to you and tapping your shoulder every three minute and asking you to check out the sister walking by. “Is she married brother?” Hijabs will vary at these places but you will see a lot of the Benazir Bhutto convertible hijab. Now of this is an Arab run Masjid then there will probably be a greater separation of the sexes.

The ghetto immigrant Masjid has a lot of variance. One Masjid that is attended by refugees primarily used to have dates and crackers for iftar. BTW, I’m not talking about gourmet crackers from some yuppie store; I’m talking about those big boxes of crackers you can get for 50 cents. Some of these Masjids are the recipients of a lot of saddaqa during Ramadan so you always have a lot of meat as wealthy doctors drop off half a farm worth of meat as a Ramadan ritual. Here it is hardcore and you may not be able to find any eating utensils as brothers go straight Sunnah and eat with their hands. I have also noticed that there is a shortage of beverages at these places and that most of the brothers don’t drink anything with their food so I usually bring some soda or juice for everyone to drink. At these Masjids food will be good like twice a week, when the rice and vegetables are fresh, but then you will get like two or three days in a row of stale rice.