As we conclude our trip, Friday was full of bitter-sweet moments. As we started the day at Earthworks, we spent the morning with the farm-manager, Patrick, solidifying our information on food justice, sovereignty, and security. We learned the importance of supporting local farms, having food safe for consumer and producer, being affordable and accessible for all walks of life and advocating for policymakers to protect the nature of our food systems.
We finished our time at Earthworks from how we started, by breaking bread one last time with our community members in the soup kitchen and sifting compost. After saying some hard goodbyes, we left with two important messages: live everyday like it is your last and always be grateful for what and who we have in our lives.
Friday night, our last hurrah together, we humbled ourselves at the American Muslim Society in Dearborn, Michigan. The president of the mosque, Mosad, welcomed us with open arms into the lovely worship center. As tradition goes, we took off our shoes as we entered and gathered ourselves into their prayer space. The room could have held over 300 people, spanning over three rooms. One room was specific to males and another designated for females.
Fridays are considered the “holy day” where all males are required to come to the mosque at five specific points during the day to pray. The first prayer, sunrise prayer, starts at 6:00 AM and the last one ends at 7:55 PM marking the nighttime prayer. We had the opportunity to witness their sunset prayer, which occurred at 6:30 PM. All the men gathered together, including children, at the “call to prayer”. Call to prayer, Adhan, was a beautiful hymn and Arabic message to call all Muslims to the mosque for prayer. Once everyone came together, the Imam (the leader of prayer), led the congregation. The men went from standing, to kneeling and to laying in the prostration (head to the floor) back and forth for over 10 minutes as the imam led his sermon in Arabic. This was an extremely beautiful opportunity to witness. What truly moved me, was being in the back of the prayer space (guests are asked to sit in the back observing) and as the men made their way in, they either smiled or waved, acknowledging our presence. I loved the way the Muslim members made us feel more than welcomed in their place of worship.
After observing a lovely sermon, we were brought into another room and engulfed in the smell of Middle Eastern spices and greeted with warm smiles of three guests, two male Muslim doctors (one MD and one cancer researcher) and one female engineer Muslim (married to the MD). We were served a traditional Muslim meal of rice, chicken, salad, hummus, pita and potatoes and given the best baklava in Dearborn. Amongst dinner, the guests described their faith, including the five pillars of Islam and offered us the opportunity to ask as many questions as we desired. The female engineer had touched our hearts in a special way though. She came in her head-scarf, hajib, and was dressed in a long satin white dress to the floor with embroidered flowers on the long-sleeves. She had an elegance to the way she talked about her experience becoming an industrial engineer and how proud she was to be an American. Born and raised in Detroit, but family had roots in Yemen, she also talked about her struggles as a Muslim but more significantly as a Muslim woman. Growing up, herself and her family were subjected to harassment and discrimination in Detroit. She describes being in second grade and being told to present to her entire school on her faith and why she chooses to practice Islam. When she got older, the shame worsened often being spit on, chucked rocks at and condemned for her faith. She thought this would all be left behind after receiving her degree at the University of Michigan, but when she started her career at General Motors, she was faced with multiple more types of harassment. Being specifically proficient in her career, one of the only women in charge of all eight SUV compact cars and their design at GM, she worked hard, almost 12-18 hours a day. But that did not stop people in her workforce from sexual scrutinizing her for her choice of dress, desire to pray five times a day or even not being able to practice “typical” society norms such as shaking hands. Because of this, she was often denied her raise or job promotions simply because “she was different”.
Our female Muslim sister (Muslims refer to one another by brother or sister) is continuously subjected to cultural discrimination as well as female oppression that one would think would have set her back, but actually has only sprung her forward. She now takes her time to educate those who do not have the knowledge on Islam and the Muslim culture. She has made serious strides in the workforce to address women rights as well as rights for Muslims. Her courage and vulnerability today are a reason she is a role model for our students on our ABST as well as all women. I specifically admired her devoted nature to her religion and being so passionate about being a Muslim. The world needs more of her in our lives.
The last man to talk to us, is a doctor at University of Michigan Cancer Institute who has been a part of many opportunities of service and mentorship in the Detroit Metropolitan area. This man spoke from his heart about the love he has for every human being in his path and his love for life alone. He came to the states also from Yemen and settled surprisingly in Erie, PA after being treated at Shriners Children’s Hospital for a chronic condition in his youth. It was a God moment learning one of our accompaniers had even been a part of his recovery during his time at Shriners. He also talked about how our faith is very similar to the faith of Islam. We discussed about the similarities and differences and most of us were surprised by the vast amount of similarities rather than the differences. He too, eloquently shared with us his vulnerabilities and how he chooses to live his life in peace.
In all, the experiences we had today at the mosque had touched the lives of many of the students on our ABST. Speaking for myself, I known their love for all walks of life was inspiring to my own faith and has encouraged me to be more devout. More importantly though, this population truly is a peaceful, giving and compassionate group who wants nothing more than to do good in the world. Muslims are just as much of people as we are and we have incorporated it in the missions in our lives, to do everything we can to advocate for their beautiful faith.
I think as a conclusion of our trip, we can say our experiences with the mosque have solidified the hope we have in humanity. As we are packing up tonight, we are realizing we truly are leaving a piece of our hearts in Detroit. But we know that space in our hearts are now only open to the moments that set our souls on fire and the gift of love that we have experienced here in Detroit, Michigan.
In shaa Allah (God Willing),
Shukran (Thank you),
Alesha D. Griffo (Group Leader) – Sophomore Physician Assistant and Psychology Major