This week I spent some time learning more about Islam, because some of the characters in my next novel are Muslim.
On Monday, I toured the Islamic Mosque and Cultural Center on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, DC, the first mosque in the capitol.
On Tuesday, I went to midday prayers (Zuhr) at the Islamic Community Center of Laurel, Maryland, and had a tour and visit with the office manager.
Yesterday, Saturday, I attended the opening of DCA – the Diyanet Center of America, the $110 million dollar complex financed and built by Turkey, the largest Islamic campus in the Western Hemisphere. Thousands of people came – men, women (most wearing hijabs or scarves, some pushing strollers), children, old people, youngsters, many speaking Turkish to each other, or English if I addressed them. In the parking lot (a mile from the center) I saw license plates from MD, PA, DE, NY, CT, OH, VA, and AL. I was told there were people from Ottawa and Toronto.
I had a pleasant conversation with a Turkish-American builder from Philadelphia and an accountant from Connecticut who was there with his young son.
One highlight was meeting five Muslim police officers from New York City, part of – in the words of Police Commissioner William Bratton – the “over nine hundred dedicated [Muslim] officers in this department.” He was responding to Ted Cruz’s proposal that “patrols” should monitor “Muslim neighborhoods” in the United States after the terror attacks in Belgium.
Security was heavy at DCA. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vice President Joe Biden were speaking. I would estimate there were at least fifty police cruisers and perhaps a hundred officers, plus the Secret Service and Erdogan’s security people. TSA was checking people through metal detectors and examining their possessions.
I arrived at about nine o’clock – the ceremony was to start at eleven – but the crowd was already immense. Much of the time, a drizzle kept people under umbrellas, which blocked the view, but during the ceremony, heads did the job. Nevertheless, the crowd was in a good mood for this occasion. My waterproof hooded jacket kept me dry.
I was unable to stay for the lunch (I couldn’t imagine how the crowd could be fed without a miracle taking place, oh, me of little faith), or the classes on Islam and calligraphy. Some other people were leaving when I did, but I was pleased to have been able to experience this celebration, even from afar.
I watched this mosque being built over the past few years and wrote another blog post about it: “Perspectives” which showed my photo of the mosque coexisting with a Christian neighbor at Christmas.