Looking For Peace In A Mosque

by Cinelle Ariola Barnes

I had been struggling with my prayer life, figuring out where and how I could have some peace and quiet in the Big Apple. I tried to petition and call on God, but the words wouldn't come. I wondered, “If a city never sleeps, how does it ever dream? How do its people ever come to a solemn state of rest?” My father, a Christian of no particular denomination, suggested I visit a mosque and learn from the Muslims. 

“Watch them pray,” he said, “Their discipline and devotion is admirable. Watching them pray at the exact same time every day was one of my favorite things about living in the Middle East.”

I say I am a well-traveled Filipina, but that only means I have made countless layovers on flights to and from New York. The most traveling that I have ever done is through reading books, therefore I have great expectations of places I have yet to see. I hear “India” and I think saris in vibrant colors, citrus rinds covering a plate of curry, or yogis in lotus position. I hear “Rio de Janeiro” and I think futbol, futbol, futbol!

When I hear the word “mosque,” a flipbook of ideas, images, sounds, and even smells pop into my head. I let my mind cruise through this Rolodex as I sit in the Pelham-bound 6 train. Here I am, a young Protestant raised in a Catholic country, managing all the thoughts sweeping through my head as I near the New York Mosque. I straighten my spine and fix my hair as I get off the train, forcing myself to be, or seem to be, more reverent than I usually am. 

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Islam Controversy Heats Up Dinner in Normandy


Inside the old stone farmhouse in Normandy, a small Buddha statue sits on the sideboard in the dining room. Photographs depict people from various cultures--Cambodian, Malaysian, Thai. The host and hostess of this chambre d'hôte, have traveled widely. She is fluent in English and he, the photographer, slightly less confident in the 2nd language.

My husband Ken knows only a few words of French and I remember a bit from college.  We are seated at the dinner table with eight French guests, only one of whom can communicate at all in English.  I think of him as Monsieur Traveler, because he lists all the places he has visited in the United States.

After serving a hand-made paté and the bread whose homey aroma has been teasing me since we arrived after our tour of World War II sites, our hostess introduces the guests. Ken and I eat the entreé of local Camembert cheese baked in a flaky crust as the enthusiastic conversation in French flows around us.  I can catch a word here and there, but am frustrated not to understand--particularly the obviously entertaining tales of Monsieur One-Arm who is seated three people away from me on my right.

Madam Traveler watches Monsieur One-Arm, her eyes open wide. From time to time, as he speaks with gusto, she gasps or puts her thin hand to her mouth and says “Oh-h-h” as he tells his tale, which has to do with his being in Vietnam in 1960.  Monsieur Traveler synopsizes the long story. “He lost his arm in Vietnam.” It is a reminder that the “American War” was first the “French War.”

At some point after the serving of the delicately cooked fish, Monsieur One-Arm looks at me and speaks to Monsieur Traveler, who replies to him and then turns to me. “He asked if you could understand.  I said I speak slowly to you and you understand.”

Mustering my courage, I say, nodding toward the right end of the table, “Monsieur parle tres vite, mais j'ecoute lentement.”  The French vacationers laugh at my “speaks very fast/listen slowly,” and Monsieur is off to the races again. But this time, it is a question for me.

“He wants to know,” says Monsieur Traveler, ”what you think of the mosque in New York City.”

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