As the sun rose over mosque after mosque across the globe, the muezzins waited for their shadows to gather at their feet, then one by one climbed into minarets, picked up microphones or simply lifted their voices to issue their call:
“God is great! I bear witness that there is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger. Come to prayers, come to salvation … “
As they do every week, hundreds of millions of people responded to that call on Friday. From six continents they faced Mecca, the city where Islam was born. They bowed their heads and fell to their knees, then touched their foreheads to the ground, honoring the holiest day of the week in the holiest month of the year.
Reporters visited mosques around the world Friday to take the pulse of the faithful at a time of upheaval in Islam. They found believers who, for all their cultural and geographical diversity, share an anger over Iraq and the Palestinians and a feeling that their religion is under threat from the West.
“Muslims are getting united now,” said Mamdouh Habbal, a 61-year-lawyer attending prayers at Cairo’s majestic Al-Azhar mosque. “Unfortunately, they’re united in one thing: hatred toward America. Even an old man like me, it has hit me. And I’ve never known hatred my entire life.”
Indeed, preachers and believers across the globe described a Muslim world of 1 billion believers under attack from threats both spiritual and worldly. They warned of decaying morals and declining traditions – and of what they called a U.S.-led campaign to tear Islam apart.
“What is happening now in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan is a war against Islam, a crusade, an old war in new clothing,” Youssef Abu Sneineh said in his sermon to at least 150,000 people at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque.
In Qom, Iran, the preacher claimed fraud in the recent election in neighboring Afghanistan, and the congregation chanted: “Death to America.”
Mohammed Aslam, a 65-year-old retired school teacher, emerged from prayers in Islamabad, Pakistan, saying he prayed to God to forgive his sins, protect his family and unite Muslims. Then he added: “I prayed that America be destroyed and Bush face defeat because he has unleashed oppression against Muslims everywhere in the world.”
In some countries, government-appointed clerics write a single speech to be read at all the country’s mosques; others grant preachers varying degrees of independence.
The mosques are set in landscapes as varied as the people who attend them. An Australian mosque sat among suburban homes with manicured lawns, a Malaysian mosque between office towers of mirrored glass. A Libyan mosque is a converted Italian church. An Iraqi mosque is topped by Saddam Hussein era minarets in the shape of assault rifles.
But the themes of the sermons everywhere were similar in essence, in part because they fell during Ramadan, the holy month of dawn-to-dusk fasting and religious reflection. Preachers appealed for greater observance of Islam’s requirement to shun food, water, tobacco and sex during daylight hours, and to give to charity.
“Donate generously in Ramadan for the school; Allah will reward you,” Abdul Haleem Qasmi told followers at his red-brick mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Preachers appealed to people to be better Muslims. At Blanchot mosque in the Senegalese capital of Dakar, El Hadji Rawane Mbaye told his followers to restrain every part of their body during Ramadan – their tongues from gossiping, their feet from leading them to sinful places.
Mbaye spoke Wolof, the Senegalese language, while sermons elsewhere across the globe were heard in English, Dari, Urdu, Arabic, Indonesian, Farsi and many others.
Many mosques avoided political sermons – because of government control, a desire to be inclusive or simply the preacher’s preference.
“We are very neutral. We have to comply to English law,” said Ahmed Al-Dubian, a Saudi who heads the London Central Mosque. His flock includes Arabs, east Asians, Africans and British converts. “Radical Islam is allowed in the walls, because all are welcome here, but we do not preach it.”
At the ancient al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, the preacher stuck to his uncontroversial script, but afterward more militant speakers tried to grab an audience among the worshippers, and police stepped in to take names.
“Grace be to Islam. Islam is coming,” called a voice from the crowd. “We are all Saladin.” He was referring to the 12th century Islamic warrior who drove the Crusaders out of Jerusalem.
But elsewhere, most preachers waded into politics, at least asking their followers to pray for their brothers in Iraq and the Palestinian territories. There were few who didn’t speak out against the war in Iraq, and fewer still who didn’t condemn the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
“The American administration will one day stand humiliated, its head bowed because of its support for the criminal Zionist entity,” said Sheik Salah Kuftaro at the Abu al-Nour mosque in Damascus, Syria.
Several condemned the beheadings by Iraqi militants, while others said they wished the fighters well in fighting the U.S.-led occupation.
“We should stand by the holy warriors and help them everywhere, especially in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Palestine and Iraq,” Sheik Abdullah Bahi said in San`a, Yemen.
Many believers indicated that this was a message they wanted to hear.
“Ramadan is here, but is our nation well? Are we happy?” asked businessman Abdullah Mohammed in Muscat, Oman. “I don’t think there is one Muslim on earth who is really happy, as he sees the children, women and elderly men in Palestine and Iraq being killed in cold blood.”
But Mahmoud al-Toumi, a 44-year-old teacher at a mosque in Tripoli, Libya, took a more upbeat view:
“Despite the weakness and disunity in the Muslim world, every time I watch television and see the call to prayer for fast-breaking from a Muslim city, I get proud of Muslims’ strength, and their unity at this great moment.”
We appreciate your support
Our website includes affiliate links, which means we get a small commission — at no additional cost to you — for each qualifying purpose. For instance, as an Amazon Associate Religion News Blog earns from qualifying purchases. That is one reason why we can provide this service free of charge.