There were no pews or crosses, but Rock Hill’s newest house of worship opened Sept. 20 with what is found in any other: prayers.
The Masjid-al-Salaam, the “Mosque of Peace,” had its first prayer services that Friday afternoon, almost five years after construction began.
Some of the prayers were in English, some in Arabic. Personal prayers were whispered in Urdu and Hindi and other languages.
In every one of those prayers, and the message spoken by the leader of prayers, called an imam, the word “love” was used repeatedly.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when so many were killed, being a Muslim in America has not been easy.
Area Muslins have said repeatedly that bin Laden and others are killers. Still, opening a mosque can be more fraught with issues than opening a storefront church.
Islam carries baggage at times. Muslims have purposefully invited politicians, police, even the FBI, to area services and events for the past 12 years. Those people will be invited to the mosque, too.
They know the world is watching. Their mission is to be a part of spiritual life of the community, said Isam Musa, the imam who led the services. Musa called the opening of the mosque “a great day,” but he said Muslims must now show Rock Hill and York County that their goal is the same as any other house of worship – fellowship.
“Now what all must do is what the true Muslim way is – a way of community with all,” Musa told the more than 60 people at the first service.
Everybody knelt. The Muslim way is to kneel before God. It is the same God, area Muslims say, that Christians and Jews pray to.
Just like other church services, there was a message. The message opening day was simple: Be a good neighbor – including to those who are not Muslims.
The mosque is a first in Rock Hill and the first in the state to be built by the Islamic Center of South Carolina. All money came from donations, which contributed to construction taking almost half a decade.
Musa said his role at services as an imam is similar to the preacher in a Christian church – to give a message to the faithful. Despite the mosque not having pews, and the holy day being Friday instead of Sunday, and men worshipping in one room with women in another, there were many similarities to a Christian service.
People shook hands and hugged as they entered. They performed small ablutions to prepare for the service, small personal prayers to prepare.
One man brought a baby. The baby cried.
Somebody forgot to turn off his cell phone and it rang and the man rushed to get it shut off as others chuckled and still others shook their heads in the universal way that says without words: “You should have known better.”
Abdul Khanani, a Rock Hill dry cleaner who was a guiding force in building the mosque and is an elder, led the call to prayer.
He then knelt next to Mohammad Hossain, a college professor. On the other side were two Winthrop students. One wore a soccer jersey. Some wore jeans. Others wore traditional Muslim garb.
Imam Musa spoke for about a half hour about things that are universal. Be generous to all. Be good to everybody regardless of whether they practice the same faith as you.
“Do not cheat your job, your neighbors, your relationships,” Musa told the faithful. “Do not be jealous.”
Know that God knows if you are a sneak, he said in so many words, as any Christian preacher says.
Musa used the word “love” more than 15 times.
At the end of the service, the men lined up in rows and knelt again, northeast toward Mecca in Saudi Arabia.
Then there was laughter, and more handshakes and hugs.
The group held an open house Saturday for the public to tour the mosque.
“We built this to share it with Rock Hill, York County, anyone who wants to come,” said Jasiri Makadara, another leader of the mosque.
Hasan Guarshi, from Sudan, in Africa, who runs a Rock Hill beauty supply company and had been involved in getting the mosque built, said, “This first service was beautiful. The first one is always special. Exciting, I would call it.”