Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar! God is Greater, God is Greater! The call to prayer is heard throughout the mosque. It falls silent as everyone gets up and prepares themselves for prayer. The light glistens through the windows on the dome, hitting the verses of the Quran written around the carpeted prayer room.
This mosque is the most extravagant one I have seen. It is the Hagia Sophia of America. The name of Allah is written high up on the dome, followed by the name of Prophet Muhammad and then the names of each of the prophet’s progeny. The prayer room walls are covered in verses of the Quran, beautiful calligraphy. The mosque has two floors, a kitchen, a hall, prayer room, and a café. It is not traditional but more of a modern mosque. The crystal and gold chandeliers hang down from ceilings. The light bounces off the shiny marble floors of the main hall.
The mosque is the largest in America which includes multiple domes and two minarets. Its exterior is just as eccentric and extravagant as the inside. It lights up at night, bringing out the brown, beige, and green colors of the exterior. The interior and exterior are not the only things that make this mosque modern. The programs the mosque holds are nontraditional in the sense that they are Americanized. A youth group program runs things differently than a traditional Arab-like mosque. This modern mosque has become more than just a place of worship. It is a place where people can hang out.
The youth program at the mosque holds raffles, fundraising dinners, comedy shows, and carnivals. These are activities you would not find at a traditional mosque. The interior and exterior of the mosque looks Arab and Muslim but at its very core it is modern and Americanized.
I am Arab by decent, American by birth, and Muslim by choice. The hijab (head scarf), I wear is the flag of Islam, an indicator that I am a Muslim. I was raised in a house with traditional Arab values. My sisters and I were taught to cook and clean. My brother was taught how to be a “handy man” and fix things around the house. The women always have to be conscious of their reputation, to make sure they are not doing anything “shameful” that will put a hindrance on the family or family name. This also applies to the men but not as harshly and as much as it does for the women.
My parents did their best to raise an Arab-Muslim girl in a westernized society. As much as they tried to instill the Arab traditions, not every one of them stuck. The Arab traditions that stuck with me are being family oriented, having respect for those who are older than me, love for politics, and my ability to haggle (when I have to).
As I keep my Arab traditions I also have my American traditions. My family and I partake in Thanksgiving and get into the Christmas spirit. We do not necessarily celebrate Christmas because of our Muslim beliefs but we do enjoy in the lighting of Christmas trees and give to those in need for the sake of the holiday spirit. We have watched the ball drop in Times Square every New Year since I was child. Being born and raised in the United States, I admired the celebrities everyone else admired. I ate the foods everyone else ate but the Halal version, and I spoke the slang and understood all the jokes everyone else did. I was Arab born, immersed in the American culture.
My Islamic beliefs overshadow my two cultures and take charge. I always know what is permissible and what is prohibited when it comes to my religion. Do I drink? No, it is prohibited by Islamic Law. Am I allowed to work even though I am a woman? Yes, definitely. But when it comes to small things, like the youth Muslim program held in celebration of Prophet Muhammad’s birth at the mosque, I never know what to think. The Muslimah in me shouts YES! But the Arab in me wants to critique and give my opinion. The American in me wants to be supportive of anything they are willing to do and be open minded. As a Muslimah I was secure in what I thought when the youth program did a celebration for the Prophet. The Arab and American part of me were conflicted. The youth program brought a comedian for the Prophet’s birth celebration. From an American perspective, I thought that was an amazing idea. The Arab perspective thought it was untraditional to what is the norm. Arabs love comedy, but a mosque it is not a proper place for it, especially for the Prophet’s birth.
Due to my conflicts on the subject I never went to the celebration. Now, I regret not going. It is conflicts within me that prevent me from doing things I like. There is not a day that passes by that I don’t struggle with myself. I attempt to balance between being Arab and being American and trying to fit it in to my Islamic beliefs. My outside appearance reveals what my beliefs are. But on the inside I hold more than just my physical appearance. There is a battle between the containing of two cultures within the vessel of my religion.
The domes, minarets, moon and star symbol, Quranic verses, and the name of Allah written on the wall clearly shows the beliefs the mosque has. Internally and externally it presents to the world its religious beliefs but not until you get to know the mosque do you realize there is a struggle between being Arab and being American.