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Islam in the Ozarks: A Friday Prayer Service

Today, we bring you the final part in our week-long look at the Islamic community of the Ozarks, which is just one of the lesser known faith groups we're exploring. KSMU’s Jennifer Moore sat through a Friday prayer service at the mosque in Joplin and has this report.

Moore: Right now, I’m in the kitchen of the mosque, next to the door that leads into the big prayer hall. And I’m gonna try to go in in just a second and stake out an inconspicuous spot in the back. People have been trickling in for some time now, and as they do, they stop to make what’s known as “wudu.” That’s the symbolic ritual of washing one’s face, hands and feet before going into the five daily prayers. In just a minute, someone will sound the “adthan,” the call to prayer, and that will officially begin today’s sermon, or “khutbah.”

Sound: “Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar!”

“God is Great,” he cries in Arabic, “there is No God But God Almighty!” The words this young man recites in Joplin are the same ones broadcast over loudspeakers from the villages of Indonesia to the alleyways of the old bazaars in Cairo, Egypt. And it’s what US troops hear before the sun rises every day in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sound: Adthan

“Come to prayer, come to success,” he continues. When he finishes, he takes a seat on the carpeted floor—there are no chairs—and a man who appears to be in his 30s makes his way to the podium.

SOUND: Speaker

He begins by praising God and asking for God’s forgiveness. He’s speaking in Arabic, but a slight accent reveals that, like most Muslims, he’s not actually a native Arabic speaker, but rather he’s from the Indian subcontinent. The reason he’s starting out in Arabic is because that was the language of Mohammed, whom Muslims believe was the last prophet, and that’s how he started out his sermons over 1400 years ago.

After a couple of minutes in Arabic—he switches over to English.

SOUND: “The last time I was here in Joplin…”

Today’s speaker is visiting from Kansas City. Usually, the person giving the Friday khutbah is the imam, or leader of the mosque.

The topic of the sermon is how to communicate with one another.

Listening attentively are about 50 people—the men are in the front and the women in the back. They are all facing southeast—the direction of Mecca. They come from a diverse pool of ethnic backgrounds: a young Afghani mother tries to keep her two young children quiet.

SOUND OF KIDS

Two young, American men who converted to the faith sit near the front. Others are from Pakistan, India, Egypt, Singapore, and sub-Saharan Africa. Most have American citizenship now, and several of these Americans tell me they have more freedom to worship here than in their original homelands.

After about 20 minutes, the speaker indicates that it’s time to pray, and everyone rises to their feet.

SOUND: “Allahu Akbar…”

They stand in rows, side by side, listening as the imam begins to recite from the Qur’an, Islam’s sacred text. When he says “Allahu Akbar,” which means, “God is great,” everyone in the room bows at the waist.

A few moments later, he says “Allahu Akbar” again, and everyone prostrates in unison, placing their foreheads on the floor. This prostration, known as “sujud,” is where Muslims believe they are closest to God, and that’s when they call upon him for their greatest needs.

Sound: “Salam alaikum wa rahmatullah…”

The prayer service ends with the same words Muslims say when they part ways: “Salam alaikum wa Rahmatullah,” which means, “Peace be upon you, and the mercy of God.”

For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Moore.

Sound: Adthan fades out

TAG: We hope you'll join us in the coming months as we continue to go inside some of the lesser known faith communities in the Ozarks.

Colorful prayer carpets line the prayer hall in the mosque. (Photo credit: Jennifer Moore) The building used to be a church; although it was built along an East-West grid, the carpets are aligned diagonally so that people may face Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, when they pray. (Photo credit: Jennifer Moore) This frame includes Arabic inscriptions of what Muslims believe to be the 99 names of God.  (Photo credit: Jennifer Moore) Gold thread sewn onto black velvet displays verses from the Qur'an, the sacred book in Islam. (Photo credit: Jennifer Moore) The building was formerly a church; it has a stage which is not used today.  (Photo credit:  Jennifer Moore)