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Captured Illumination: A Photo Journalist's Journey to Jum'ah on Capitol Hill

by Aïdah Aliyah Rasheed, YRAC Photo Journalist

See Aïdah's online gallery of photos taken at Jum'ah on Capitol Hill here: http://www.youracreator.com/profiles/blogs/jumah-on-capitol-hill

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From the moment I awoke, I recognized the limited light peaking through the window.  The dim color was reminiscent of a memory.  As I grew out of my utopian state, the light was suggestive of ease and comfort.  I thanked the Creator for another day, prayed, got dressed and headed toward the train downtown.  It was a Friday, and I was on my way to attend Jum’ah on Capitol Hill.

Once I arrived at the train station, I noticed the new Dunkin’ Donuts stand.  My spirits were up from having just finished Ramadan, so I decided to treat myself to a doughnut.  While waiting in line to purchase the frosted glazed treat, a Muslim woman waited beside me.  I greeted her with “As-Salaāmu Alaykum.”  We shared our excitement about finishing Ramadan, and feeling enthusiastic about the upcoming season.  After paying for her small cup of coffee, she returned the salutation of peace and disappeared.  I felt refreshed and exhilarated after talking with her, but I still couldn’t wait to see what was waiting for me in Washington, D.C.

Finally, with doughnut in hand, I was on my way to attend Jum’ah on Capitol Hill.  From the online promotions and flyers that had been distributed, I knew this was going to be a major event.  The flyers reported that 50,000 worshipers were anticipated.  The website stated that objective of the event was to:

“…invite the Muslim Communities and friends of Islam to express and illustrate the wonderful diversity of Islam. We intend to manifest Islam's majestic spiritual principals as revealed by Allah to our beloved prophet Muhammad (PEACE BE UPON HIM) of Arabia. Likewise; we intend to inspire a new generation of Muslim to work for the greater good of all people. We shall serve all people, regardless of race, religion or national origin.”

These words comforted me, but I still had questions lingering.  I was not familiar with the hosts of this event, nor did I fully understand why it was being held on the Capitol.

As the crowd filled the train, I found a seat next to the window.  There was little noise or disturbance, just calm.  Trying to be quiet and discreet, I lowered my voice.  I was on the phone with the founder and director of YOU R A CREATOR INC. (YRAC™), Izzy “the Artist.”  Quickly, I debriefed him and jotted a few reminders into my notebook.  Not only was I attending Jum’ah, I was going to work.

While studying Fine Arts in college, I began a photo documentation of Muslim girls and women.  Recently, I expanded my boundaries and started photographing Muslims in different communities in America.  My images have been exhibited in art galleries and published in magazines, but I felt it was time to share my natural aptitude for photography with the rest of the world, via the Internet.  This year, I joined the staff of YRAC.  My first official assignment was to take photographs from the Jum’ah service on Capitol Hill. From a photojournalistic standpoint, this appeared to be the perfect event to attend.  My battery packs were charged and I was ready to capture peace.

Before arriving at Union Station, I recognized the Muslim sister from Dunkin’ Donuts on the train.  She was sitting alone.  Although I was content next to the window by myself, I remembered how her natural light energized my spirit. I moved up to sit next to her.  I greeted her with peace once again, and she smiled and returned the greeting.  For the remaining thirty minutes on the train, we sat and discussed Islam, the Qur’an, and the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).  Both of us were on unique paths.  As we talked, there was a mutual respect.  We both acknowledged similarities in our lives, while recognizing the beautiful essence of our humanity.  The trained stopped.  We had arrived in D.C.  The sister was headed to the Pentagon, and I was headed to the Capitol.  “Allah is the best of planners,” she tells me, and I could not help but smile.  Before departing we greeted each other one last time with peace, and then walked in our opposite directions.

While walking through the Station, I was greeted several times by Muslims roaming around the building.  As I walked out the door, I had no idea where to go.  A family member was in D.C. for a convention, so she sent me a text message informing me that she was at the Capitol waiting for me.  Not knowing where to go, I spotted a group of Muslim sisters walking and decided to follow them.  I was happily led to my family.  My heart was filled with warmth after being greeted with a huge smile, a big hug, and a very loud, “Salaamualikum!”  I felt at home.

Looking for a place to sit for the Jum’ah service was not too difficult, so I decided to grab my camera and capture the scene before the service started.  Someone was reciting the Qur’an, and it echoed a bit from the loud speakers.  I could not help but smile.  The gray clouds hovered over the land.  The sky was a bit murky.  Once we found our place to sit, I greeted the sisters around me.  Everyone looked happy, but many of us were still unsure of what was to come.

Jum’ah began and I could not see the Imam.  I could only hear the Khutbah from the loud speakers.  Faintly, I could hear protesters.  To concentrate, I took my pen and notebook out of my backpack and proceeded to write.  I tried my best to take notes, so that I could later reflect on the message shared with the crowd in attendance.  The message was easy to interpret and the centralized theme connected to the idea that Islam is equivalent with peace.

During the Khutbah the Imam reminded everyone that this was a time to be held accountable for his or her actions.  There was much emphasis on humility and collectiveness within the Muslim and non-Muslim communities around the country.  The Imam spoke highly of the wonderful privileges we have living in the United States, and the blessed freedom we all have to worship the Creator.  The Islamic viewpoints were very traditional, and the use of contemporary language helped to keep the message comprehensible.  

After the Khutbah, everyone lined up for salat.  Once the prayer began, the clouds started to shift.  A burst of sun warmed the backs of those in Sajdah.  Tranquility prevailed.  The prayer ended, and the photo-ops began.  Everyone had cameras.  It was a collective moment where many in attendance wanted to take the opportunity to greet one another, and take lots of photographs with the Capitol as the backdrop.

The cheerful expressions were contagious, and it was easy to dismiss all the troubles of the world.  Capturing smiling faces in the sunshine was effortless, because everyone appeared happy.  With my memory card just about filled to capacity and my camera battery running out of juice, it was time to depart.  A few more images were captured, and then I gradually walked down the hill.  I still had room for a couple more images, so I carried my camera in hand.

I looked to my left, and witnessed a few Muslims talking with Christian protesters.  I was a bit curious and wondered what the conversations entailed, but had no desire to engage.  My tongue was suppressed.  After receiving an abundant amount of love and light from many sources throughout the day, my soul was joyfully full.  Walking toward Constitution Avenue, I saw a man carrying a young girl.  The girl was resting  peacefully in his arms.  Her eyes slowly opened as I began to take her picture. She caught the light from my camera flash, and then smiled in a moment of pride.

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Aïdah Aliyah Rasheed is an artist and independent curator. Currently working and living in Baltimore City.  This is her first story for MANA.

When My servants ask thee concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them): I listen to the prayer of every suppliant when he calleth on Me: Let them also, with a will, Listen to My call, and believe in Me: That they may walk in the right way.

Quran: 2:186
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