Emerging Muslim communities, from Warsaw to Washington, D.C., hold their Friday prayer services in various locations. Some small, urban mosques in North America and Europe rent space in undesirable neighborhoods, often near or next to sex shops or liquor stores, while other Muslim communities expand their presence with opulent developments. One group of D.C. metro area residents has started its own mosque in an unusual place–a public library.
Since last Friday, in a drab brick structure in the heart of a wealthy Washington, D.C., neighborhood, a modest-sized community space on the second floor of a library is also home to Masjid Nur al Issllaah–Mosque of Light of Reformation–and hosts Muslim worshipers and anyone else who desires to attend prayers every Friday afternoon. Under local D.C. law, the mosque must also allow anyone from the public to attend in order to gain free access to the space. The group plans to use the space until they are able to raise funds and relocate later on in 2011.
For the first Masjid Nur al Issllaah Friday prayer service, 11 congregants, men and women, gay and straight, white and black, prayed side-by-side throughout the service. The idea for an inclusive mosque in the heart of Washington, D.C., has been in the works for quite some time. Founding board members Fatima Thompson, Nabeel Kirmani, and Imam Daayiee Abdullah–a prominent, openly gay imam–are attempting to foster a space where all are welcome, regardless of “sect, viewpoint, sexual orientation, or any other identity markers.”
During the khootbah, or sermon, Imam Abdullah offered part of the purpose for a new prayer space for Washington D.C. Muslims: “Some describe the [mainstream] mosque as the big giant closet where we have to suppress parts of who we are so that we can have a communal prayer.”
Thompson, an outspoken activist known throughout the D.C. community, described Masjid Nur al Issllah as something different. “I’d like to think that we’re breaking down the walls that the mainstream or Orthodox communities put on us.”
Following the completion of the Jummah service, an openly gay white man, who asked not to be named, took the shahadah, the formal oath to follow Islam necessary for conversion. Upon reciting the declaration–“there is no God but God, and Muhammad is God’s messenger”–he was warmly embraced with hugs from both men and women. While Masjid Nur al Issllah’s first official gathering was small, it’s diverse congregation of worshipers from across the east coast and as far as Pakistan, supported its mission to embrace and include all.
[Editor's Note: This post has been modified from its original version to remove mention of the specific location of the mosque.]
Do you think a public library is an appropriate venue for a religious gathering? How do you think Imam Abdullah’s openness about his sexuality and the diverse inclusivity of his congregation will influence acceptance by local communities?