Islamic Center D’var

Rabbi Rachel Smookler

I never thought that yesterday would turn out to be like that. Like it eventually did. I never thought that a small decision I made would ever have such a profound impact on me.

Islamic Center of RochesterI don’t know….Maybe such amazing things HAVE happened to me, and I only momentarily forgot. Forgot…that is until yesterday reminded me that light always shines in through the cracks. And those cracks–what are those cracks? Three days ago, another devastating mass killing.

The news reporters running on a combination of excitement and a professional high from their twenty four hour round the clock coverage. For the last week I had been looking forward to an event. An interfaith rally downtown in front of the Federal Building in order to support the Rochester Muslim Community.

I had been in touch with Dr. Muhammed Shafiq, the Imam emeritus, who is still thoroughly involved in the Islamic Center. Letting him know, for the past few weeks, after the after events in Paris that the Jewish Community is ready to support them. Through emails and phone calls. After the events in Paris I stopped in to see if Dr. Shafiq was in, but sadly, he was off teaching at Nazereth. I walked in and out of the Islamic Center.

And now a few weeks have passed. I was looking forward to the rally,all the more so now, after the events three days ago. My heart literally wrenched for the local Muslim community who is certain to face harassment and alienation.

Hours before the rally was to begin, I emailed Dr. Shafiq to see if the Rally was still at 2:30. And he wrote back:

The Rally has been cancelled. The community is just too sad after what has just happened.

I wrote him back that I would still like to be involved in planning something in supportof the Islamic Community. I felt absolutely helpless. And I NEVER like to feel helpless.

I got in my car and drove to Maleks, purchased two beautiful round chocolate babkas and drove to the Islamic Center on Westfall Rd.

The parking lot was packed. I wasn’t sure if the community was gathering here or what? but then I remembered, it was one of their prayer times.

Carrying my two babkas, I went into an office that a few people were congregated in. The Center was teeming. I asked someone if Dr. Shafiq was in. At first the woman was a bit hesitant and I explained who I was.

Someone led me immediately to a room where Dr, Shafiq was seated with a few other people. He welcomed me warmly and introduced me to everyone, including the President of the Islamic Center. Dr. Shafiq was dressed in a traditional Muslim tunic and traditional looking head covering made of twisted fabrics.

I usually see him wearing Western clothing so it truly made me see him in a different light. Everyone was VERY excited about the Babkas and I said they were a gift from Temple Beth David as a gesture of sweetness and support.

And then Dr. Shafiq asked me if I wanted to observe the prayer service. Yes! I couldn’t wait. We took our shoes off and our feet padded along a beautiful deep red plush carpet with patterns of mosque architecture. We sat at the back.

The Ama, like the shaliach tzibur or the chazzan in a synagogue, chanted in a beautiful voice as over 100 men stood shoulder to shoulder as is the custom.

Bowing halfway, then up again, then bowing all the way down. The motions all swift, all in unison, the devotion witnessed in each man’s movements. Dr. Shafiq motioned for me and asked if I would like to go upstairs to the Women’s section. Once we got upstairs, he told me to go to the front and look over the balcony. “From there…is a good view” he said.

And he was right. The fluidity of the prayers, the movement and the call and respond….was somehow so much more intensified in my bird’s eye view. And then I saw something I could never have seen from sitting down in the back on the first floor. A father, while bowing prostrate on the ground, on the beautiful burgundy plush carpet, was cradling his young son.

With every bow, and there were many, his son got to feel that extreme closeness to his father..literally enveloped in love. It is how a child first learns, Dr. Shafiq later told me.

After the service, again, Dr. Shafiq introduced me to many people. I felt…I can’t describe it…really. I felt as though at that moment, standing there amongst people I had never met, I felt that..everything in the world was…. right.

I felt at peace. At peace with myself, at peace with those around me. That awareness that an outsider would feel uncomfortable or alien, for me..didn’t even exist. Not even for a moment.

As we walked down the hallway, men with skullcaps, men with beards, men without, passed me. It was so familiar. I felt that I might have been at another synagogue. And again, I was reminded how many similarities.

Dr. Shafiq took me around their Day School and introduced me to their Director. She told me about the Jewish and Christian teachers they have had working there through the years. And we all agreed that we are all the children of Abraham..

Before I took my leave, Dr. Shafiq and I discussed different ways the Jewish community and the Muslim community can come together. And we came up with many ideas to promote goodwill and friendship between our two communities.

It’s true, in the beginning of the day I thought “I” would bring a bit of light into the Islamic center with my support and my babkas. A little light shining in through the cracks that keep chiseling away..exploding away at their lovely community of peace.

But from the moment I walked in their beautiful building I realized that “their” light was embracing “me” and it was just pouring in through the cracks revealed in me, cracks of xenophobia, mistrust, mis-information and fear.

If you have been feeling as helpless as I have and if you have been wanting to become a part of the solution in our community…

If you want to have this beautiful transformative experience, all you need to do is drive down Westfall Lane, turn into the Islamic Center’s parking lot and literally walk through their open doors. They are waiting for you to come. They told me. They are waiting for you to just step inside so that we can meet each other.