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When our political discussions turn to foreign policy, the Middle East almost instinctively moves to the forefront of contention. "That's the reality of our times," said Papa Sall, Imam of the Islamic Center of Peekskill. But seismic shifts in today's human events do not take precedence over a permanence found in the message the Senegal born holy man has for his flock.
"We're not going to be here forever so we're here to focus more on spirituality," Imam Sall implored.
A Day in the Life
The center or Mosque begins with offering its 25 member congregation the opportunity to come in and fulfill the requirement of praying five times a day. Of course, not every Muslim has the chance to drop everything and face Mecca from a mosque everyday. But Imam Sall pointed out the advantage gained by an in-house engagement. "If your boss told if you work from home I'll pay you ten dollars an hour, but if you come in I'll multiply it by 25. That's the difference," said Sall.
He hopes his Friday sermon can return a similar payoff. Certainly using the goings on of daily life, the half hour oratory is intended to help members rise above what ultimately must be considered mundane. Reminding people of God’s will and their duty to him, he said, "It's a spiritual awakening of the soul."
Muslim men are required to cover the body except below the knee. Muslim women the whole body except face, hands and feet.
Otherwise, Peekskill will not likely notice much different about members of his congregation if seen on the street. Men must cover the body below the knee, and for women, the whole body including head wear. However, there's no restrictions on the type of attire. "You can dress in regular clothes," Sall said. “So we blend into the community.”
Reaching out and Raising Kids
That said, the larger Muslim movement recently issued a call for centers and mosques to reach out to their communities. As a result, an open house was held recently.
The idea was to help to introduce communities to their Muslim neighbors and diminish misconceptions bore out of the fear of the unknown. The mayor, two members of the city council and several local reverends attended. "We showed people what we do, how we pray and let them know if they see something they don't understand,” he said, “they are more than welcome to ask."
As for the diversion American culture might place on the Muslim path —especially among children—Papa Sall has remained ready to redirect since taking over in 1995. “There are challenges in this society that we didn't have growing up," he said. "But we strive to raise them as good Muslims."
Content of Character
This might leave credence to the old adage that the Koran provides a spark to varied interpretations but not really from where his congregation sits. "If we need to consult an expert above our level we do so, but we're not here to argue A to Z. That's not the intent. It's more about reading the text and going back and forth with what is learned," said Papa Sall.
No place in between can he find basis for the media driven assertion that 72 virgins await so called suicidal, homicidal warriors. But voicing dissatisfaction over the facts in order to put to rest various misconceptions isn't the way in which the narrative can be changed, he believes.
"Our feeling is actions speak louder than words," he reasons. So going forth in a peaceful, positive manner gets the real message out, Imam Sall asserted.
Still, what of the possibility of profiling and law enforcement Infiltration in Peekskill? "We're here for peace, and we're not involved in anything that would subject us to it. But like anyone else, if we were generally blanketed as Muslims, we wouldn't like it," Imam Sall said.
As for those of any group involved in wrong doing, he leaves law enforcement and the justice system to carry out their obligations. In accordance, he believes the typical Muslim has little correlation to the over exposure directed toward the actions of a few. "It's not a great percentage of what Muslims are about," he said.
Blending in, it can clearly be seen, speaks directly to that here in Peekskill.