Observing faith

Nabil Suleiman, president of the Islamic Center of Grand Forks and associate professor of civil engineering, led afternoon prayers during an Observe a Muslim Prayer Service on Friday. Nick Nelson/ Dakota Student

Nick Nelson

Nabil Suleiman, president of the Islamic Center of Grand Forks and associate professor of civil engineering, led afternoon prayers during an “Observe a Muslim Prayer Service” on Friday. Nick Nelson/ Dakota Student

Ben Godfrey, Staff Writer

The week of Jan. 28 through Feb. 3 was “Interfaith Week” at the University of North Dakota. The idea was to celebrate all religions and faiths and promote acceptance of different world-views and lifestyles. On Friday, in the spirit of Interfaith Week, I visited the Islamic Center of Grand Forks to  sit in and observe their weekly prayer service.

During my time at the center I got to speak with several individuals and learn more about the Islamic faith, as well as what the center means to Grand Forks’ Muslim community.

Nabil Suleiman, a Professor of Civil Engineering at UND, is the president of the Islamic Center. He explained the Islamic Center not only serves as a place of religious worship, but also as a social hub for the Muslim population. The center is host to a variety of events including weddings, pot lucks and holiday celebrations.

The service itself was an interesting new experience. Followers of Islam perform five prayers a day that are scheduled according to their home’s sun rise and set. These five daily prayers are known as ‘salat.’ While daily prayers can be done alone, the Friday prayer, ‘salat al-jumu’ah,’ is performed in a congregation at a mosque.

It is customary for one to take off their shoes before entering a mosque, as it is the house of Allah. Before sitting down, worshippers recite two ‘rak’at’ prayers as a respect and greeting to the mosque.

The process of the Friday prayer is similar in some ways to a Sunday morning service at a Christian church. Worshippers join together in prayer and the imam and provides guidance in the teachings of Islam. Through readings from the Quran and other Islamic texts, followers become more in touch with Allah. 

After the sermon is complete, the imam leads the congregation in two more rak’at. It’s very important during these final rak’at for the congregation to form in straight, orderly lines facing Mecca. The carpeting in the Islamic Center is designed with rows of straight lines to make it easier to get organized.

Mecca, a city in western Saudi Arabia, is known as the birthplace of the prophet Muhammed and therefore the holy city for the Islamic faith. At some point in life, all Muslims must make a pilgrimage to Mecca, as this pilgrimage is one of the Five Pillars of Islam.

In order to live a good, responsible life, every Muslim must satisfy the Five Pillars. These include sincerely reciting the Muslim profession of faith, performing the five daily prayers (salat), paying alms or charity to benefit the less fortunate, fasting during Ramadan, and finally the pilgrimage to Mecca.

It was interesting to learn more about the Islamic faith. For many people, there is a perception that Islam is foreign, different and separated from religions more familiar to them like Christianity.

Islam, in fact, is one of the three main Abrahamic religions and hold many of the same beliefs and teachings as Christianity and Judaism. One individual I spoke with, a convert from Christianity to Islam, described Islam as sort of an “extension” on Christian beliefs.

Another individual expressed their concern about the stigma associated with Islam in the U.S. and around the world. There’s this false idea that Muslims are violent, dangerous, and plotting against non-Muslims. People in the U.S. have developed irrational fears of Middle Eastern people in general thanks to sensationalized coverage of isolated events.

In reality, Suleiman explained, to harm another person is forbidden in Islam. Any acts of violence performed by radical Muslims are abhorrent and not at all accepted by the Muslim population as a whole.

Knowledge, acceptance and coexistence are the key ideas behind Interfaith Week. Our job as college students, and as humans, is to keep our minds open to different ideas and to never stop learning.

Ben Godfrey is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]