One of the most memorable things about being in a country in which the citizens are predominantly Muslim is the public call to prayer -- the adhan -- sounded out rhythmically five times a day by a muezzin, the name given to the one who does the calling.
I remember being in a public market in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, once at adhan time and watching shops close up. Then I watched the virtue police going around to make sure no one was doing business during prayer time. Clearly, I wasn't in America.
The Muslim population of the U.S. -- variously (and imprecisely) estimated at 3 to 10 million -- is large enough now that some communities are passing local laws and ordinances to allow the adhan to ring out in public, as opposed to simply being heard inside a mosque. It's a sign, writes Leila Tarakji, the author of this article from The Conversation, that Islam is finding a welcome home in the U.S. (Tarakji teaches religious studies at Michigan State University.)
"The fact that the adhan can be heard in the streets of Minneapolis, Hamtramck and Astoria – alongside church bells and other sounds of worship – signifies that Muslim beliefs are not deemed less worthy, nor must they be confined to a private space," she writes. "It is a sign that Muslims are at home and welcome here."
As she notes, "The practice of calling worshippers to prayer is an important aspect of daily Muslim life, one that has a long history on American soil." Indeed, some of the first slaves dragged to what became the U.S. were Muslims.
One reason the number of people who embrace Islam today in the U.S. is hard to pin down is that generally mosques -- unlike most churches and synagogues -- don't keep detailed membership lists. Still, it's clear that the number of Muslims in America is growing. Which means non-Muslims and Muslims alike here are learning how to live together in peace and respect. That harmony, of course, hasn't always been present in the post-9/11 world.
Tarakji's article includes some good links that can help you understand Islam more fully:
"Adhan literally means 'announcement' in Arabic and refers to the Islamic call to prayer that takes place five times a day. The five daily prayers signify one of the five pillars of Islam that are traditionally considered obligatory for every Muslim. The prayers are performed in the direction of Mecca throughout the day.
"The practice of calling the adhan dates to the time of Prophet Muhammad, when it became the standard way to mark the beginning of each prayer’s time and to call Muslims to prayer."
America's religious landscape is changing daily. Although a majority of Americans still identify as Christian, the U.S. no longer is a landslide for Christianity, and there will be more harmony among U.S. citizens if we recognize that reality.
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A 60-YEAR-OLD HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL IN KC
On Monday evening of this week, at the annual membership meeting of the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education, members learned that MCHE now will be in charge of the maintenance of the 60-year-old memorial to the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. It's on the east side of the Jewish Community Campus in Overland Park. If you've never seen it, have a look. It's fascinating. Here are a few photos of it. (I serve on the MCHE Board.)
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P.S.: If you missed my latest Flatland column when it posted on Sunday, it's still available for free here. It's about a woman who just was named Holocaust Educator of the Year, and she's from, of all places, tiny Lone Jack, Mo.