I recently (several weeks ago) took a small-guided tour to visit major Islamic sites in Richmond. The local Muslim population is growing as it is across the nation. The excursion took me to the Islamic Center of Virginia (ICVA) in time for a Friday service. Here’s a brief glimpse from my perspective of the experience.
Turning onto the ICVA property, you quickly notice several uniformed officers. You wonder, but soon realize their presence is primarily for traffic control. The parking lot is nearly full as we are directed by the aid of a uniformed officer to a grassy space. After parking the vehicle, our party of three made our way to a building entrance where we saw people entering and exiting. Before entering the service, I sat down to remove my shoes and place them in an available space among hundreds of shoes shelved and placed on the floor. I entered the service. The room was packed with hundreds of men sitting on the floor. The women were located in another part of the facility. Men and women worship separately. A few chairs line the wall in the back – primarily for non-Muslims. I made my way toward the back to sit. People are still pouring into the full room.
Monzer Taleb was the guest speaker. He was in town for a “motivational” speaking event that evening. He was articulate, well spoken, and convincing. His message focused on the need to help orphans. Muslims for Humanity was his cause and their effort to care for orphans in Africa. He identified well with his audience using current illustrations and teaching from the Qur’an. I had hoped to both see and listen to the Imam. He is very much the American face of Islam in the region. The audience in the service was attentive and participatory when appropriate. The ethnic composition of the room was interesting. I was one of less than six white faces. The bulk of others present would identify with either Middle Eastern or North African heritage. If this is a typical composite of Islam in Richmond, Islam’s local growth would be primarily migrant rather than convert or proselytized growth. My only “awkward” moment was the prayer time or Muslim’s worship. During the reciting of prayers, I thought to myself, “What should I pray?” The god is Islam is clearly not the God of Christianity. So how do you pray as everyone in the room is praying to something else? Is this how the prophets of old felt as the masses entreated the gods of other nations? This is definitely a topic for another post.
At the conclusion of the service, I made my way toward the exit – slowly moving with the crowd. I wasn’t in any particular hurry to leave, but found it interesting that I was never engaged in conversation. While I didn’t try to initiate a conversation nor did I give off the appearance of being anti-social. People were obviously talking to one another. I was definitely the odd man out.
The story takes an interesting twist after returning home. Interested in learning more about the speaker, I did a simple search for Monzer Taleb including several spelling variations. My first reaction, I didn’t necessarily like what I found – definitely put me ill at ease. Monzer Taleb is an Islamic scholar and motivational speaker. He is also a panel discussion participant on topics such as Sharia law. Over the past couple of years, I’ve made connections with Muslims – both practicing and former. For clarification, I contacted a number of sources (including ICVA) and an indirect contact to Monzer Taleb in an attempt to verify his story and past. My question, “Is this the Monzer Taleb with ties to Hamas?” Hamas is an organization with proven ties to terrorism and a distinct hatred for Israel. To date, my inquiries have basically gone ignored. A simple question continues to go unanswered. Choosing to ignore an inquiry of this sort only creates greater suspicion. If this man is one and the same, I have some grave concerns that a voice of hatred, annihilation, and terrorism moves in and out of our community unnoticed. Additionally, it creates a cloud of suspicion regarding Muslim activity in the Richmond area. I certainly hope this is not the case.