I have a feeling that President Obama’s visit to a Maryland mosque this week was kind of too little, too late (“In mosque visit, Obama decries anti-Muslim bias,” Feb. 4). It is ironic that while Obama is sending drones to kill Muslims abroad, an Islamophobe like Donald Trump only calls for banning them.
Republicans think Muslims just don’t fit here. Obama, on the other hand, thinks Muslims fit just fine right here in America, once they make it into the country alive. “Let me say as clearly as I can as president of the United States: You fit right here,” Obama assured thousands of Muslim Americans at the Islamic Society of Baltimore who came to listen to the first black president of the U.S. This probably was not the first time Obama had visited a mosque. His father was a Muslim, which has been a scar that has followed him all of his life.
According to a September CNN poll, 29 percent of Americans believe Obama is a Muslim, including 43 percent of Republicans. Obama joked about such notions in his mosque visit, saying the same rumors had stained Thomas Jefferson. “I am not the first,” he said. “I am in good company.”
Americans have a medieval view of mosques; many seem terrified of mosques. Most mosques in this country were at some point churches or schools that closed down. Very few mosques are actually built as mosques.
A big chunk of Americans who have never visited a mosque think mosques are breeding grounds for terrorist jihadists. Mosques, unlike churches, have no membership or denomination. Any group or imam can open a mosque. If you don’t like a mosque, you simply go to another one or build your own.
Imams build their own mosques not to preach jihad but mostly to ask for money, mostly to fix the roofs or bathrooms. One mosque here is run by a group of imams who are more interested in dead Muslims than live ones. They run the biggest Muslim cemetery in the state and charge $5,000 a head. For them, a good Muslim is a dead one.
The role that mosques play in Muslims’ lives and belief system is much overstated. I go to mosques periodically, and I have never seen such a bunch of bored Muslims as those who are exposed to the so-called jihad preaching. If America has “born-again Christians,” Islam has “bored-again Muslims.”
Imams, for the most part, are unqualified, self-appointed preachers, not well-versed in religion or in effective communication. So here is a tip that may help Islamophobes in this country: Nothing disperses a crowd of Muslims faster than an imam’s sermon.
The main jihad (struggle) I have when I go to the mosque is trying to do “Wudu” — the pre-prayer washing — without falling to the bathroom floor. Muslims come from all over the world with different personal hygiene customs, which often require specialized devices. Most restrooms in America aren’t equipped with the right devices, such as a foot-bath or “Shattaf” bidet toilet. Washing your feet in a bathroom sink is a hard task, especially for Muslims wearing robes. Once you get one foot into the sink, the robe will trip the one you’re standing on and you soon are left cold and flat on the bathroom floor. More Muslims fall in restrooms performing “Wudu” than in any other place. (I am the source of this statistic.)
The greatest jihad of them all at the mosque is finding my shoes after prayer. Muslims usually come late to prayer, and they are always in a hurry. They insist on taking off their shoes without using their hands. Shoes end up scattered everywhere, losing their pairing system.
People often spend more time looking for their shoes after prayer than actually praying. Some end up wearing whichever shoes they can find or fit in.
Yes, at the mosque there are many jihads a Muslim is exposed to — but none of them are much like the one Donald Trump and Fox News spew every day.
Ahmed Tharwat is host and producer of the Arab-American TV show “BelAhdan,” which airs at 10:30 p.m. Mondays on TPT. On Twitter @ahmediatv. He blogs at Notes from America at www.ahmedatv.com.