Muslims Offer Friday Prayers Near U.S. Capitol

Thousands of Muslims gathered near the U.S. Capitol for Friday noon prayers. The effort was designed to raise awareness of Islam's emphasis on peace and devotion.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

In Washington today, in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, thousands of Muslims filled the hillside. They had come by the busload with one goal: to show how peaceful Muslim prayers can be.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay was there.

JAMIE TARABAY: The front lawn of the Capitol slowly filled with men in robes, long shirts, pinstriped suits and different color prayer caps. Women wore sequined head scarves, some wore all black and some didn't cover their heads at all. They all faced east to pray.

(Soundbite of prayer)

Mr. ALI ABDUL AZIZ: It happens to be a fortunate coincidence that the direction of Mecca, where we are going to pray, is just immediately facing the Capitol in the background.

TARABAY: Ali Abdul Aziz(ph) arrived on a bus from central New Jersey along with 50 other people from his local mosque. He's one of the organizers of today's prayer. The 74-year-old retired accountant said planning began soon after President Barack Obama's speech to the Muslim world this spring.

Mr. AZIZ: He's the first president talking about getting people together. The objective again: to serve humanity.

TARABAY: Across the lawn, people bent in the grass to wash their feet, performing their ablutions before praying. Police watched the entrance while outside, a few anti-Muslim protestors handed out pamphlets. Physician Nasim Habib(ph) of Virginia came with his wife and two-year-old daughter. He said the prayer and the protests were evidence of freedoms he never enjoyed before he immigrated.

Mr. NASIM HABIB (Physician): Well, I think in America, the minorities are treated better than minorities in any other country. And I can tell you from a Bangladesh prospective, from an English prospective, living in America and probably in other parts of the world.

TARABAY: Organizers had hoped for 50,000 to come, but the attendance fell far short of that. For Donna Henry(ph) who came from New York, that didn't matter.

Ms. DONNA HENRY: It's okay to be Muslim and gather together and pray with your friends and family and be public about it and, you know, wear a head tie if you're a woman and it's not a bad thing.

TARABAY: At 1:00 p.m. the men stood in rows to the left while the women went to the right. And they all bowed their heads to the ground in prayer.

(Soundbite of prayer)

Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Washington.

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