What’s in a Name?

As we nomads walked up the steps to the Community Mosque of Winston-Salem, I passed by the giant sign in front of the building and didn’t think much of it. In reality, I subconsciously noticed the sense of community the mosque offered from the moment I walked through doors. As I expected, there were separate entrances for the men and women. What I didn’t expect was to enter through the sisters’ door and walk into… the space that the brothers’ door led to. Initially, I was confused. Then I felt…at peace. A sense of unity. Whatever it was, it was refreshing. The high ceilings, open space, and thriving plants that encircled the prayer area evoked a welcoming spirit. By bringing everyone together physically, it seemed to send a broader message that everyone in the building belonged together.

I went downstairs to use the restroom and noticed a giant rack of flip-flops. Next to it was a sign encouraging everyone to wear the flip-flops while in the restroom. I smiled to myself as I thought of my own family and how we, too, keep an exclusive set of flip-flops for restroom use. I felt at home already.

As we sat down and enjoyed the delicious meal provided by Imam Khalid, I couldn’t help but feel a little nervous. Here he was, welcoming us into his space with open arms, literally. The bashfulness quickly dwindled away to raw emotion in a matter of minutes. Merdin, the son of a Bosnian refugee, walked in, followed by his father and uncle. And truly, in a matter of minutes, half the room was in tears as Merdin recounted the horrors of his father and uncle’s experience in Bosnian concentration camps. “They just couldn’t understand people,” he said at one point.

There were some glimmers of hope – he recalled how the Muslim community provided them support in their darkest days after escaping to the United States. His face and voice filled with emotion as he described, “They helped us with everything – a house. A car. A job.”

Listening to one heart-wrenching story after the next, I was struck by his openness. Despite having every reason not to have faith in people, here he was sharing his and his family’s most intimate thoughts and emotions to a group of strangers. I watched as he embraced Abdullah and Imam Khalid. Although his family may have irreparable scars, I was at least comforted by this sight – it was a visual representation of the support they so desperately needed. It was the community that provided them with new-found strength.

Their stories reminded me of what Imam Khalid had just related to us earlier. The mosque was founded by a group that aimed to serve the Muslim community in areas of necessity – Friday prayer, marriage, funeral services, etc. In other words, the mosque came about from the need of a space for these activities. In essence, the community sustained the mosque. Or as I had just learned from Merdin’s experience, the mosque sustained the community as well. The mosque WAS the community, in a building.

That’s when it hit me….the name of the mosque! “Community Mosque of Winston Salem.” Following my initial feeling of “DUH!”, I felt a sense of warmth and thought, yeah, this IS the community mosque of Winston-Salem.