SHAFAQNA- It is not uncommon for Muslims to gather after early morning Saturday prayer at a mosque to share a potluck breakfast.
Food can be as simple as croissants and cream cheese. But someone always brings something.
And “we all sit around in a circle and chit chat,” said Talha Siddiqui, 25, who was born in Pakistan but emigrated to the U.S. about seven years ago, eventually settling in Golden. “Face time with individuals gives you a common bond.”
For the estimated 50,000 Muslims living in the Denver metro area, as well as the 100,000 living statewide, a mosque is a place of unity — a place to worship, to learn, to form bonds with others. High importance is placed on the social aspect of gathering, much more difficult 30 years ago when Muslims met in people’s homes to pray. But today, at least 25 mosques and Muslim centers are scattered throughout the state from Pueblo to Fort Collins, with the highest concentration in the Denver metro area.
“A mosque is the main place of gathering for the community,” said Littleton resident Linda Ally, who frequents the Golden, Lakewood and Denver mosques. “It’s what helps keep the community held together.”
Muslims gather at mosques, not only to pray,but also for weddings, condolences when a person dies, to celebrate a baby’s birth.
“Islam is really beautiful because the people are tied to each other,” said Siddiqui, whose job as a technology systems consultant took him to Los Angeles about a year ago. “I’ve made friends that, hopefully, I’ll know for the rest of my life.”
A person can visit any mosque that is convenient, Ally said, and some people attend different mosques depending on the programs taking place. Programs include teaching lectures that cover everything from prayer duties, to being there for family, to helping others. Most mosques also offer a weekend school with lessons to learn Arabic, or memorize the Quran, the central religious text of Islam.
A key foundation of a mosque’s social aspect, Ally said, is its role as a gathering place to pray five times a day. The purpose for prayer is to act as a reminder to “remind us of our creator and our duties to him.”
Social activities also are tied into members’ schedules, Siddiqui said.
For example, somebody might organize a men’s bike ride in between the afternoon and evening prayer times. Or, he added, a youth activity group might gather for a hike or a ski trip on weekends. It’s about finding “wholesome interests” to enjoy together, Siddiqui said.
One Friday night tradition is a women’s potluck, Ally said. Sometimes, it’s difficult for women who are raising children to come to prayer five times a day, so they will pray at home. The potluck, she said, is a “chance for the ladies to get together with their children” at the mosque.
Ally was born in Palestine, but was raised for a good part of her life in the Denver area. She remembers as a child, 30 years ago, gathering in homes to pray because Denver didn’t have any mosques.
“It’s amazing how it expanded,” she said of the area’s many mosques.
Golden’s mosque, the Islamic Center of Golden, is run by volunteers. One is Ally’s husband, Omar. About 150 people worship there during peak times, and about 80 percent are international students attending Colorado School of Mines. The center started in 1999 with about 30 Mines students who wanted a local place to worship.
“It came out of necessity for the students,” Omar Ally said. “The students needed somewhere to pray.”
For Siddiqui, who visits Golden and the center about twice a year, the mosque is simply a peaceful place to be.
Students often bring their laptops or form a study group that takes place in a mosque, he said. And a new mosque, being built in Golden next to the smaller, existing center, will be about three times the size and “feel more like a community center.”
Because forming relationshipswith others is important, Muslims tend to have “a strong bond of looking out for each other,” Siddiqui said. He didn’t own a car when he lived in Golden, so people helped him out by ferrying him to daily errands, such as to the grocery store.
Kindness to one’s neighbor — regardless of his or her faith — is a key teaching, said Hussein Amery, a professor at School of Mines who teaches courses on the Middle East.
“I know of international students, some of modest means, who occasionally share a meal or a dessert with their neighbors in Mines Park,” Amery said. “This is a common practice.”
Sharing with others — regardless of faith — is a tenet practiced often, members say.
For example, during Ramadan, one of the pillars of faith in Islam and the holiest period of the Islamic year, Muslims fast to turn away from earthly concerns and show obedience to Allah. But they abstain from food and drink only during daylight hours, said Hisham Sager, member of the Golden mosque. And at sunset every evening, people gather at the mosque to eat — and a person does not have to be Muslim to participate in the group dining.
In fact, a person doesn’t have to be Muslim to participate in many of the social gatherings, Linda Ally said. Sometimes, her non-Muslim college friends would accompany her to some of the mosque’s social gatherings.
And it’s that welcoming environment to the community makes mosques special, she said.
You don’t have to be a Muslim to be a part of that,” Linda Ally said. “The faith itself is based on the betterment of the community. You want for others what you want for yourself.”