Local Islamic Society opens doors for Ramadan prayers

October 20, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN - With foreheads pressed to the blue tarps before them, members of the local Islamic Society participated in prayers as a barefoot audience watched during a Ramadan open house Thursday.

On one of the last nights of Islam's holiest month, the Islamic Society of Western Maryland opened its doors on Day Road to dozens of people of other faiths.

Sitting on the floor and lined against the walls, groups of women and men separated by a divider listened in silence to a short period of prayers, as the society's members stood, bowed and kneeled. Afterward, the visitors peppered Safi Khan, an imam, with questions covering an array of topics, including Ramadan, violence in Iraq and the Taliban.

In words probably foreign to most of the participants, Khan passed on the blessing, "Peace be unto you," before he began the discussion. He said he was "tickled to death" to see so many people. For Muslims, Ramadan is a "spiritual boot camp" that forces followers to purify themselves.


"It's not just their stomachs that fast, their ears fast, their eyes fast, their hands fast, their hearts fast," Khan said.

During the month, when Muslims believe the Quran was revealed to the prophet Muhammad, followers avoid temptations that could lead them away from God, Khan said.

When some of the visitors asked him about issues concerning terrorism, Khan replied that the media have misconstrued Islam, a religion that he said does not condone violence.

For centuries, he said, Muslims have lived peaceably with Christians and Jews.

"Unfortunately, you have hotheads on this side or that side, and fanatics, and they spoil it for everyone else," Khan said.

One man, who sat on the floor among the other visitors, quickly chirped in: "Our side, too."

Islamic Society member Nazia Hussain said she and other congregants have heard the same questions since Sept. 11. She said the open house gives people a chance to understand Islam better.

"We have to understand we are the minority, and the best thing we can do is educate people," Hussain said. A Pakistani native, said she is not uncomfortable answering questions about her faith and culture.

"It's better to find out, it's better to ask questions, than to have assumptions."

For 11-year-old Caroline Wills of Hagerstown, the services were surprisingly familiar.

"I thought that it was really cool to see how they worship. It reminded me a lot of my faith because I'm Catholic, and they get up and down a lot," said Caroline, who has a good friend who is an Islamic Society member.

Alan J. Schiff, the first vice president for the B'nai Abraham Synagogue in Hagerstown, said he would like to see more people attend interfaith events, so younger generations will grow up with tolerance toward each other.

"I think there can never be anything bad with discourse," Schiff said.

The Herald-Mail Articles