Two men speak before prayers at the American Islamic Association in Frankfort. (Photo: Gary Kopycinski)
Frankfort, IL–(ENEWSPF)–September 11, 2010 has come and gone. Do you recall the controversy this year? Do you recall the name of the pastor of a church of 50 or so members who was threatening to burn copies of the Qur’an? Do you even remember the name of his church?
Now that the media’s most recent "tempest in a teapot" has passed, how can Americans of all faiths understand each other more deeply? What, exactly, is the Qur’an to Muslims?
Turns out, one does not have to travel far in Chicago’s South Suburbs to find a place where East meets West. The American Islamic Association in Frankfort describes itself as "an organization of Muslims providing facilities and personnel for regular and special prayers, religious and language education for all age groups, social and religious interaction and outreach programs with other Faith groups and other social or community organizations," according to the AIA’s Web site. First incorporated in 1979, the organization’s Mosque sits on a 14 acre scenic property purchased in 1982. Until late in 2005, weekend school activities were conducted in the renovated farmhouse and old airplane hanger were retrofitted for a makeshift congregational prayers and services. The airplane hanger remains today.
Next to the old hanger stands the Mosque, completed in 2005. The building’s finishing touch, the dome, was added this past summer. Pictures of the construction of the dome are available for viewing on the AIA’s Facebook page, as are pictures of the dome as it is lifted by crane and placed on top of the Mosque.
AIA is a member of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC), the organization’s Web site says.
Dr. Khalid Baig and his son Khasim. Dr. Baig immigrated to the United States from India to Park Forest. He currently lives in Frankfort, but still owns property in Park Forest. (Photo: Gary Kopycinski)
I visited the Mosque on Friday, September 10, for afternoon prayers to ask Muslims what Qur’an means to them? How can those of us who are not Muslim better understand this text, roughly 4/5 the size of the Christian New Testament, so sacred to approximately 1.57 billion Muslims worldwide?
Irfam Ibrahim, visiting from Massachusetts, said the Qur’an teaches a way of life, "…following the path of Muhammad, Peace Be Upon Him."
What did Muhammad teach? Ibrahim provided an example, saying the Qur’an teaches how to live, and to respect all living things, "To donate, to fast, how to treat your family members, how to treat your neighbors. For example, in Qur’an, there’s one thing where, if you cut down one tree, it’s actually harming all humanity. So, if you take a life, imagine the impact of that."
For Said Alrafahim from Oak Forest, Qur’an is "like a human manual for the whole entire earth. To me, it’s a perfect book. It was given to us by God. It’s his words. What we understand at this time, other people will understand in the future, like we understand something now where people in the past, they didn’t understand."
Alrafahim continued, "If you understand Arabic language, you realize that book is perfect in everything."
"Qur’an to me is a way of life," said Saqib Mohajir of Orland Park. "It’s an embodiment of what the Prophet taught us, direct revelation from God. Qur’an is the words of God. They don’t mean anything unless they’re embodied by a person, and unless that person is living and breathing the Qur’an."
"[Qur’an] is sent by Allah through His Prophet, Muhammad. We have to learn from Qur’an and do whatever it says. It’s a holy book sent through Allah’s Prophet Muhammad," said Roohina, also of Orland Park.
"The Qur’an is divine revelation," said Roohi Younus from Westmont. "It has not been changed over time. We use it to guide our lives."
"It is a holy book, just like Bible," said Abdul Qayium, who immigrated from India in 1968, living today in Frankfort. "We believe in Torah and Bible, and all the prophets. The book is revealed to Prophet Muhammad from God, and that’s why we believe it." Qayium says the Qur’an teaches "to do good, and stay away from bad things."
Qasim from Frankfort said Qur’an is "the word of God. It is the guidance for Muslims and humankind."
"It is the words of Allah," said Said Ali of Tinley Park. "And they were revealed straight from Allah through the Angel Jibril, through the heart of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). We as Muslims believe that it is the true word of Allah."
"Jibirl" is Arabic for "Gabriel." "PBUH" is an abbreviation for, "Peace Be Upon Him," a common blessing spoken by Muslims after saying the name of Prophet Muhammad. Mr. Ali said the phrase in Arabic, which I was able to recognize, but not well enough to offer a proper transliteration here.
"It’s a book that is guidance for the mankind," said Syed Naqvi of Indianapolis. "It was revealed from God for the mankind, not only for the Muslims. And Qur’an itself says that it’s the book of guidance for those who are seeking guidance."
"What is Qur’an? Qur’an is guidance for mankind," said Abdul Shakir, of Ford Heights. "If you have a situation that you have a problem with, read the Qur’an."
Shayk Azeemuddin Ahmed, second from right, with members of the AIA. (Photo: Gary Kopycinski)
"For me, Qur’an is Alla’s true Word, which He spoke," said Shaykh Azeemuddin Ahmed, who serves as Imam for the American Islamic Association, "It’s not a creation of God, it’s not a piece of literature that’s a nice work of God, like Shakespeare’s best work. It’s not just God’s work. Works get outdated. Works get worn out. This is the true word of God, it’s His attribute."
"I try to uphold it as much as possible in my life," he said.
Ahmed agreed that the closest analogy to Christianity is not to think of the Qur’an as a Bible. Rather, Qur’an to Muslims is more akin to the Eucharist for Christians.
And when the Qur’an is recited? "We say that God will send down His blessings. We’re surrounded with angels."
Members of the AIA sometimes refer to Azeemuddin Ahmed with the title "Mufti," denoting an Islamic Scholar. Mufti Ahmed knows the Qur’an well.
He memorized it in its entirety by age 12. In Arabic.
The Imam commented on the potential burning of the Qur’an that was to take place on September 11.
"With this whole issue, the desecration of the Qur’an itself, that’s not the true Qur’an. This is a reflection of the Word of God. We believe the month of Ramadan is a holy month in which the Qur’an was revealed. It was already spoken by God, before time. And it was revealed from the protected tablet in which everything is written unto earth. So what we see here is just a mere reflection of the actual Word of God, in the sense that causing harm to this means nothing to that."
In other words, it is impossible to burn the Qur’an. "You’re just burning pieces of paper on which translations are written. That’s the most you can do," the Imam said.
Shayk Azeemuddin Ahmed will be one of three speakers at the October 10 SWIFT Interfaith Lecture Program at B’nai Yehuda Beth Sholom Synagogue in Homewood. The topic will be, ‘Muslim, Christian and Jewish Perspectives on ‘Forgiveness and Compassion.’" He will be joined by Rabbi Rachel S. Mikva — Assistant Professor & Rabbi Hermann E. Schaalman Professor of Jewish Studies at Chicago Theological Seminary, and Reverend Caleb Yong Hong — Lead pastor at Faith United Methodist Church in Orland Park, IL. More information is available here.
Pictures from the prayers and after.
Video of Friday prayers: