This morning was a classic September, New England morning, with the promise of warmth, and the boding of approaching winter. At 6:45 am, the temperature was in the high 50s, slowly rising with the sun. The sky was bright blue, sparsely dotted with slow-moving, puffy white clouds. There was a brisk wind. It was chilly enough for a wind breaker, and warm enough to have regretted bringing it when the sun was high in the sky.
I stood watching from the bleachers as the men and boys streamed past toward the eastern end zone of the Jack Crump football field. At the other end of the field, toward the 40 yard line, the women and children were arriving.
At one point early on, a large pleasant women in a vast black niqab shooed me away from the (unmarked) children's section and told me to sit on the bleachers where the men were. Never did instructions from Security seem so unexpected and congenial.
There were men and boys of every stripe streaming onto the field. Of hats I saw knitted skull caps—white ones and black ones—Afghani pakols, keffiyehs, and turbans. I even saw one fez. There were a few men in formal black suits, medical personnel in scrubs, young men casually dressed in jeans and shirts open at the collar. Many men were wearing light, calf-length thobes, some stopping to pull them from their backpacks and don them before going down to the field. Almost every man seemed to have a prayer rug and a plastic shopping bag for his shoes.
Eventually a man came to the bleachers and shooed all the able-bodied men out of the bleachers and down onto the field.
Advertised for 7 to 7:30 am, Takbeer seemed to stretch on toward 8:15, with many different men leading, in turn, from the microphone. Young men and boys were especially urged to come forward, so much of the time the chant, while earnest and charming, was oddly childish and atonal. Once prayer started at around 8:20, though, there was an experienced and mellifluous adult chanter.
Periodically, during takbeer, a warm-voiced and inviting man instructed the crowd on worship etiquette. There was brief instruction on what already should have been done—the rising, the washing, the breaking of the fast—and what yet should be done—the contribution made before the prayers, the embrace of the joy of the day, the passing on of the joy, smiling, making contributions to charity.
The men were reminded that they should apply a pleasant scent to their bodies, perhaps borrowing some from the man sitting next to them if they had forgotten. The women, too, were asked that they use some scent—not over much, so people distant from them couldn't tell, but only enough so that those they embraced or greeted would smell it.
The assembled were encouraged to visit the mosque, browse through the souk, and to partake of the doughnuts and other food there.
Then folk were instructed to straighten their lines. Volunteers helped ensure that, looking left and right, the aisles between lines of worshipers were clear and straight. Then the prayers began.
This was my first experience of Muslim worship, so I was surprised when a scant twenty minutes later, around 8:40, at an obvious break, many of those assembled began to leave or stood and chatted with neighbors while a sermon was delivered. The great majority stayed seated, but the fringes of the crowd broke out into a festival atmosphere of greeting friends and remaking acquaintances.
There were perhaps two to three thousand people present on the field, far short of the ten thousand anticipated in the parking plan. Police presence was much less than one might expect for an event of similar size, with senior police officers (gold badges) unobtrusively tooling around in green-colored, Boston EMS electric carts. There were fewer than a half a dozen Special Detail motorcycle police officers on Tremont Street half-heartedly directing traffic at the intersections of Prentiss Street and at Malcolm X Boulevard. Gloria Fox, Byron Rushing, and Chuck Turner's presence was announced. Mayor Menino was expected, but had not yet arrived.
These three days are when the supplications of the faithful are especially heard. But, this morning seemed somewhat subdued in spirit, with less palpable joy of gratitude for the blessings from the Creator. Next year the religious calendar won't conspire with the civil calendar to make the fifteen hundred-year-old Eid al-Fitr coincide with the anniversary of a nine-year-old tragedy. Perhaps in 2011 residents of Boston will feel freer to express their faith publicly and joyously. Kudos to the public officials who came out early this morning to express their solidarity.
It is embarrassing to this non-Muslim that we can't mind our own business. Whether it is people outside of Manhattan voicing their beside-the-point opinions on the business of New Yorkers when they should be worrying about zoning issues in their own communities. Or, whether it is an incendiary, small-time, fringe preacher in Gainesville who should take to heart this line from the Orthodox Lenten prayer: Grant me to see my own errors, and not to judge my brother or sister.
Having not known beforehand how to break fast, when I returned home, I ate three dates.
The ISBCC's web site was unfortunately updated only very late this week with information on today's event. Elsewhere they say that their "website has been compromised."