Mosque of Miami / Islamic School of Miami Masjid al-Noor

I was in the parking lot at Mosque of Miami just as Imam Anwar was arriving. I approached the Imam and introduced myself by name and explained I was a student wanting to learn about Islam. It became clear immediately he was used to us college students stumbling into his Mosque and he had a process down pat for it. Although I had felt nervous approaching him initially, the realization that this mosque was no stranger to stranger somehow made me feel relieved and more comfortable with what followed.
He made sure that my attire was appropriate and led me to the entrance. I removed my shoes and entered. He set up a chair towards the back of the room and quickly explained how this would be done: I will observe prayer and come up with any questions that would later be answered by his assistant.
I followed his assistant outside as he called to prayer, the chanting was intrenching and beautiful.
Prayer began immediately and it was lead by Imam Anwar. I noticed the walls lined with shelves had many Qur’ans, in many languages and varied titles: The Holy Qur’an, The Noble Qur’an, The Glorious Qur’an. A sign taped to the first shelf asked respect for the Qur’an by not stacking anything on top of the holy books. Another sign posted on a nearby bulletin board read: If the FBI contacts you, contact us.
Slowly, more men trickled in and joined in the group prayer. A total of about 8 men ended up arriving at some point. When group prayer was over, some left, and some stayed and continued to pray on their own. It was at this time that I was able to sit down with the Imam’s assistant and ask my questions.
The assistant was very friendly, and very assertive and sure in his answers. He began by telling us this was the first Mosque in Miami, and that it has been here over 50 years.
My first question related to differences between Sunni and Shia, and if there was any animosity that discouraged Shia Muslims from coming to his mosque to pray. He insisted Shia Muslims separated themselves from other muslims, and that they in fact welcomed any person, of any religion to pray.
I tried to be sensitive and let him know that some of my questions were personal or opinion based and if he didn’t wish to answer them he didn’t have to. So although we went through the Five Pillars of Islam, appropriate clothing, rituals, and so on, the most interesting parts of my interview were these personal stories and opinions.
I asked him how his community was affected by 9/11 and all that followed. He shared with me that people parked outside of his mosque and called for it to be burned down for weeks following the attacks. He told me how he and his wife began to be shunned in public places; people were afraid of them now. As a Muslim in America he was dealing with a misunderstanding of who he was religiously, and as a Pakistani he was unable and afraid to visit home now because of all that ensued 9/11. He was trapped in two worlds and both were difficult places to be. This was the most raw and revealing truth I took from this interview. He was very thorough with everything else, but these personal memories and details are what moved me the most, and gave me the most insight.
After leaving the mosque and driving home with my daughter (who by the way was warmly welcomed into the mosque as well) I thought about what post 9/11 was like for Muslims here in America and abroad. I wondered how people would treat me if I started to wear traditional head covering and am still thinking about this…. I have this curiosity and because I am flying to New York this weekend I am going to wear Hijab to the airport and back. Although this won’t tell me everything about what Muslims are experiencing here in America, it might give me a bit more insight on how I am perceived if I were Muslim. My project does not end here.
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