Potluck and Dialogue at the Islamic Society of Central New York

The Islamic Society of Syracuse welcomed WTB members to their masjid (mosque) for a pot-luck dinner and dialogue. Magda Bayoumi welcomed us and introduced Mohamed Khater, President of the Islamic Society and her husband.

We enjoyed a delicious soup and salad repast prepared by Tunura Barbour, augmented by tasty additions brought by others and shared stories at our tables; by the end of the meal our group numbered around 25 people.

Danya Wellmon opened the discussion noting that everyone who responded to the survey after last year’s Journey to the Tent of Abraham expressed an interest in revisiting the Masjid to learn more about Islam. Mohamed Khater, a long-time friend of WTB, opened it up to all questions. He introduced Amr Elsharkawi, an Islamic scholar and teacher from the prestigious Al Azhar University in Egypt.

The call to prayer came over the intercom system so the matter of prayers came up first. Mohamed said the Qur’an mandates prayer five times a day: dawn (one and a half hours before sunrise), noon, afternoon, sunset, and evening (night). Since times are linked to the sun times vary throughout the year. The prayers are in Arabic and the same through out the world.

Sue Savion asked a question about cultural differences in the practice of Islam in different parts of the world. Mohamed responded that the Koran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed in Mecca in Arabic but has spread literally around the world. There are certain core beliefs that are fixed, but local cultural traditions affect other practices. Since Islam is a “way of life” it affects an individuals relationships to other people and society in general. Dress is one area that differs in different areas of the Muslim world. Honor killings are have cultural roots; nothing in Islam condones them.

A question was raised about sects in the Muslim world and their similarity to Christian sects. Mr. Khater tried to summarize the divide which began more than a thousand years ago over the question of who would succeed Mohammed when he died. Sunnis basically believe that the best among Muslims should be chosen, while the Shi’a believe the leader must be genetically related to Mohammed. Danya added that it is a long-standing disagreement similar to that between the Protestants and Catholics in Christianity. Of the 1.8 billion Muslims in the world, 90% are Sunni, 10% are Shi’a. [The Islamic Society of Central New York is a Sunni mosque.]

Eighty percent of Muslims do not speak Arabic as their native language. A question was asked about the relationship of Arabic to the practice of the religion. The Qur’an was revealed in Arabic…not a single letter has ever been changed. When a person becomes a Muslim, they must learn the five daily prayers in Arabic and say them with understanding. The basic tenets of the faith can be learned in a month or less. Study beyond this requires learning Arabic. While the Qur’an has been translated in most languages, you can say “I read the Qur’an” only in Arabic. Interestingly, some of non-Arabic speaking Muslims memorize the entire Qur’an and can recite it perfectly.

In response to a question about how Muslims dress in India, Mohamed noted that sometimes culture and religious injunctions get mixed up. The Qur’an says that women must cover their hair for modesty. Some cultures interpret this as a head scarf, others a burka. The Qur’an regulates everything in our lives—both men and women must dress modestly and lower their gaze in the presence of the opposite sex. All Muslims must meet the injunctions in the Qur’an. If they want to go further in their devotions that is fine, but he said it shouldn’t be imposed on others.