Monday, October 22, 2007

Meeting the Imam

Each morning a distant chanting voice enters my window and gently summons me to be for a moment awake and then the gentleness of the sound lulls me back to sleep. I do not understand most of the words but just as I enjoy the ringing of church bells I enjoy this melodic unfamiliar sound. I do however understand the word “Allah” and each time I hear Allah I know that I am in a different world. I have known many Moslems in my life but their culture submerged in the overwhelming Western Christian culture barely breaks through the surface. Here the Islamic culture permeates the lives of everyone Moslem or not.

Recently, I visited the town of Massabolahn in the Kolahun District in Lofa County. When I stepped out of the vehicle I heard a drum. At first I could not locate the person drumming but eventually I saw a young boy beating a drum and in front of him was an entourage of about twenty men, women, and children. In the center walked a tall bearded man with his head covered with a red stitched Middle Eastern scarf and wearing a long black robe covering a yellow undergarment. As he moved through the streets people showed their respect and people came out of their homes and businesses to greet him and the others in his entourage. As he approached he stopped and greeted me in Arabic and I returned the greeting. We shook hands and he asked what nationality I was. I told him American. He smiled and nodded. We shared a few more pleasant glances and smiles since neither spoke the other’s language and then with a hand shake he moved on. I watched him as he moved continued down the street meeting and greeting everyone along the way. I later discovered that this man is a very important local Imam, a teacher of Islam.

I find the followers of Islam in Liberia firm in their belief and with a strong determination to lead good and exemplarily lives. For the past three weeks during Ramadan I experienced the followers of Islam maintaining a schedule of work, family, and prayer while fasting throughout the day until sunset. During this time they have absolutely no food and often nothing to drink. I found myself a little embarrassed when I thought about my feeble attempts at fasting and praying during Lent and Advent.

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