Photo by Cat Guzman

MUSLIMS IN THE VALLEY - PART 1: THE HAMPSHIRE MOSQUE

By Noor Anwar

March 6, 2013

Bright blue and yellow Nikes, a Peshawri chapal, flip flops, boots of all lengths, even a tiny pair of red, sparkly Wizard of Oz slippers are among the many pairs of shoes lined up outside the entrance to the Hampshire Mosque.  The different styles indicate which door to enter from, men on one side, women on the other.  Inside, all pray in one room.

The Mosque is situated on one of the outer blocks of Amherst Center. It is surrounded by a variety of shops and restaurants. Its neighbors include a sign-painting shop, a wine and spirits store, and a tattoo parlor. There is only one modest sign outside the entrance that reads “Hampshire Mosque,” with a little crescent moon and star.

Underneath the winding staircase that leads up to the mosque is a tailoring shop owned by a Muslim couple – an American man named Fred who converted to Islam when he married his Turkish wife, Fikriye. They moved from Greenfield to be closer to the mosque.  Fred claims that the FBI is staking out the building from the parking lot.

Photo by Cat Guzman

I can faintly hear the voice of the Imam speaking from inside as I take off my shoes outside the ladies’ side door for the jummah (Friday) prayer. I walk inside and am heartily greeted by the other women – Asalam-ul-alaikum – may peace be upon you, they say in unison. I return the greeting, place my backpack next to the others in a corner, and sit down on the oriental carpeted floor beside the women. They all pass me warm smiles, asking if I would like to sit in the front.

“Hello, my name is Semah. Are you new in the area? I have never seen you here at the mosque before.”

Embarrassed, I tell her that I’m a student at the college down the street. I do, however, mention that I visited the mosque during my first semester to celebrate Eid after Ramadan.

“I am from Palestine,” she tells me. “My son just started school at Holyoke Community College. He is liking it very much.”

Semah has a plump, round, cheerful face draped by a baby-blue hijab. She’s wearing matching blue socks. She wants nothing else but to go back to Palestine with her three kids once she has obtained her masters degree in education from UMass. She wants to help improve the education system in her home country.

“I miss it very much.” Her face betrays her thoughts: the pleasure of fond memories and the sadness of not knowing whether she will ever be able to make new ones again. She has not met many Palestinians, but the mosque has filled some of the void she feels.

“We are like a family. They are all my Muslim sisters,” She says, pointing to the other women. “And my brothers,” she points to the men’s side across the yellow room divider. “They have been like father figures for my sons. I very much like how I can bring them here to have good role models in their lives.” Semah resumes listening to the lecture the Arab Imam is presenting on giving to others in the name of Allah.

I spot the owner of the Dorothy slippers. A little six-year-old girl running around her mother and the aunties. She occasionally takes little breaks between her sprinting, pulling down her crop top and standing next to her mother, who performs her prayers – first placing both hands on top of each other across her chest, then bending down halfway, and eventually all the way down with her forehead to the ground. The little girl copies her mother’s every move, occasionally looking up for that she is doing it right. When she thinks that she’s prayed enough, she pulls up her shirt again, rubs her belly and continues twirling around the room.

When the jummah prayer concludes, the aunties go to the kitchenette and fetch large, foil-wrapped trays. They insist I take a paper plate and help myself to the variety of dishes that are spread out on little tables placed next to one another, forming the buffet line. There is every kind of food – pasta, egg fried rice, chicken biryani, boiled eggs with eggplant, meat stew, and barbeque.

 

This is the first installment of a multipart series profiling the Muslim community in the Pioneer Valley. Switchboard will publish new installments of this series on Wednesdays throughout the month of March. Noor Anwar is generously contributing selected segments from a larger work on Valley Muslims that she reported last year.