Throughout its history, Pawtucket has been home to plenty of small, close-knit communities. Tucked away in a quiet corner of the city is a little-known one. Masjid Al-Rahman is one of Lil Rhody’s Islamic mosques, and on May 20, it, along with a few others, hosted local residents at an open house. The public was invited to take a tour of the mosque and learn something about their Muslim neighbors.
Masjid Al-Rahman is the only mosque serving the local Muslim community in Pawtucket. The mosque was founded in the late ‘90s, and the original site was on Newport Ave. They quickly grew, and moved to the larger space it occupies today. The mosque is in a small rectangular building; there are no domes or minarets here. You’d be hard pressed to guess there was a mosque inside.
I’m barefoot when I step into the blue-carpeted main room of the mosque. You’re required to take off your shoes before entering. The inside resembles more of a mid-century schoolroom than it does a mosque. There’s wall-to-wall blue carpet on the walls, and art and Arabic scripture on the walls. There’s a man speaking to a crowd in the corner. His name is Adnan Adrian Wood-Smith, and he’s the President of the RI Council for Muslim Advancement. He’s finishing up a speech on Islamaphobia in America as I walk over, and starts taking question from the crowd.
The crowd is respectful and curious. A woman asks about Muslims and the call of political action for social justice. Wood-Smith answers that all Muslims are called upon to pursue justice, and that struggles for equality and freedom are Muslim struggles also.
I walk around the room. There’s the Qu’ran and various informational books and pamphlets on Islam on one table. Another has someone doing henna tattoos. An older gentleman offers to answer any questions I have. He leads me around the room explaining the various Qur’anic verses and what they mean, as well as the five times Muslims must pray a day. They have a clock for that in one corner.
There’s a picture of a mosque on the wall. My new friend explains that’s what the new mosque is going to look like. They’ve purchased the land and construction is slated to start. I ask when the completion date is, and he shrugs. The Muslim community, when it can spare the money, actually sends it overseas to war-torn Syria. The man still has family there, and the mosque can always wait. It’s not just Muslim countries they sent money to; when Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans in 2005, they sent money to people in need there, too. “In Islam,” he explains, “family, community, religion and education is most important.”
A woman in a headscarf explains Muslim headgear to me. There’s really only the small cloth caps for the men, but if the women want to wear headscarves there are a lot more options. There’s no special material or design, any scarf can become one, and there’s no one way to wrap it. The differences between them are aesthetic.
I leave after an hour. It was a fantastic educational experience, and one that can remind us that we don’t nearly talk to our neighbors enough. While the media, politicians and crazed family members try to build them as two-dimensional stereotypes, it’s up to us all to reach out to others whom may not be like ourselves and see them for the people they really are: Rhode Islanders.