By Passant Rabie
On March 15, nine-year-old Hassan was too scared to go to prayer. He had heard about the mosque shootings in New Zealand from his mother, and was worried that their neighborhood mosque might also be under attack. But Sherine Fawzi, who has been living with her family in Houston, Texas for almost six years, told her son that it was especially important to show up for prayer on that particular Friday and not let the recent attack deter their weekly tradition.
Every Friday around noon, scores of Muslims from around the world gather for the congregational prayer known as Jummah (which translates to Friday in Arabic) where they listen to a sermon told by the Imam, pray, and interact with other members of the community. Jummah is considered a celebratory gathering, and attendees often put on their best clothes and perfume. But after a gunman invaded Friday prayer at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 50 and injuring dozens of others, Muslims living in other parts of the world also felt that extremists might attempt to target their local mosque, too.
Despite raising safety concerns, the recent attack seems to have motivated more Muslims to show up to this week’s Friday prayer as an act of defiance in the face of terrorism.
“There is no doubt that people are a bit afraid and concerned,” Zayed Zaheer, a member of the Canterbury Mosque community in southeast England, tells MTV News. “But nobody’s resolve to attend prayer has changed.”
For him, what makes Friday prayer special is seeing people who may not normally attend prayer at the mosque on other days, and having the whole community interact together.
Zaheer first became involved with the mosque as president of the student Islamic society 15 years ago. He recalls that they would first hold Friday prayer in a small room at Darwin College but the number of people attending every week kept increasing; the group eventually had to relocate to a different building.
“We would’ve struggled to fit the size [of people we get today] in that room,” the 32-year-old says. He adds that demographics have changed as well, with a lot more diversity in terms of people’s ethnicities, as well as more female attendees.
Fawzi says that that’s what attracts her to Friday prayer, admitting that she never used to go when she lived in Egypt. “Since I [moved to the U.S.], I’ve liked going because you find people from everywhere with different kinds of traditional dress. They all look beautiful,” she says. “You feel a sense of community and that you belong somewhere.”
And for Muslim communities based in areas where Friday is a workday, unlike most parts of the Middle East where it’s treated as a weekend, Jummah becomes more of an intentional trip.
Ahmed Ebeid, a mechanical engineering student at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Georgia, says the mosque near his university holds two different prayers in order to accommodate people’s different schedules. “It’s not like you wake up for it, you have to interrupt your work to go pray and you have to return to whatever you have to do afterwards,” he says.
But Zaheer is witness to people’s struggle in taking some time off from work or school to show up to prayer; it’s a struggle he has known, too. The notion of Friday prayer, and how it is a requirement in Islam, is not particularly well-known or understood by those who are not so familiar with the religion. As a result, Muslim people can be made to feel like their faith is further otherized in a society that historically emphasizes Sunday as a day for prayer, regardless of people’s actual beliefs and traditions.
“Over the years, I’ve had to speak to different supervisors and managers and they find it difficult to appreciate or understand,” Zaheer says. “You would think that people would know about it, but it’s a far less-known, less-appreciated sort of requirement [for Muslims.]”
Still, Jummah remains the highlight of the week for some Muslims.
“Friday prayer is something we constantly look forward to, since I started going as a kid ‘til now,” says Karter Zaher, a Lebanese-Canadian who forms one-half of Deen Squad, a popular Muslim duo that raps about Islam.
“As Muslims, we go every Friday together and for us it is the most spiritual moment of the week,” says Deen Squad’s other half, Jae Deen. “Every time we step out of the mosque, we feel rejuvenated.”
The group’s first YouTube hit was actually dedicated to Friday prayer. Using the same beat as iLoveMakonnen’s hit song “Club Going Up on a Tuesday,” (albeit with more halal lyrics) they rap, “I got the mosque going up on a Friday.”
And all agree that the mosque will indeed be going up on this and every Friday, as more people are determined to attend following the New Zealand attacks.
Zaheer says that while some people are understandably fearful of similar terrorist attacks on their own mosques, he still expects a large turnout. “These conversations may be taking place in the background…but Muslims tend to be very resilient people,” he says.
Fawzi agrees. “This Friday, I’m especially keen on going,” she says. “If the goal is to scare people then we shouldn’t give that to them.”
Our hearts are with the Muslim community and all of those affected by the tragedy in New Zealand. We stand against faith-based violence. You can counter hate at muslimadvocates.org