A Day in the Life of a Tireless Imam An imam serves as a link between Muslims and God. In Virginia, Imam Lamptey guides worshippers in prayer, but he also fills many other roles, from marriage counselor to financial adviser. His religious responsibilities compel him to devote long days serving his community.
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A Day in the Life of a Tireless Imam

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A Day in the Life of a Tireless Imam

A Day in the Life of a Tireless Imam

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If you think religious life is slow and completive, consider Sheikh Rashid Lamptey. We first met this tireless, young imam two months ago when he cut the ribbon on the new Dar Al Noor mosque in Manassas, Virginia.

In our series on The Young and The Godly, NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty set out to spend the day with the cleric and she found she could hardly keep up.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: The mosque sits near a busy highway, but at 5:30 in the morning, very little stirs except for the crickets.

Inside the building, a couple of dozen sleepy men and women slip off their shoes and quietly kneel in a large room, facing east. At precisely 5:45, a slim, nimble man in a mauve robe and burgundy cap or kofia rushes into the room. After a quiet moment of reflection, he lifts the day to God.

RASHID LAMPTEY: (Singing) (Arabic spoken)

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Most days, Sheikh Rashid Lamptey leads his devout worshippers through the dawn prayer before they drive off to work. Even for this 35-year-old imam with boundless energy, it's a little early.

LAMPTEY: You have to be up at four o'clock, putting cold water on your body, washing all the sleep away, and it's not very easy, actually. It is a test.


BRADLEY HAGERTY: By seven or so, we're sitting in his study lined with leather volumes of books about Islam, Christianity and Judaism. I asked Imam Lamptey, who came to this country from Ghana four years ago, how he would define his job.

LAMPTEY: The imam is a negotiator. He's a social leader. He's a teacher, a guide, and sometimes, he goes spiritual, where he makes prayer for people to soothe and calm them.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: And in the post 9/11 America, he says his job description includes helping his people live out Islam.

LAMPTEY: We have to really know how to package the religion and give it out. A lot of people - because of what is going on today - think that when you're religious, then you have to be a very rigid person.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: The next few hours are the only solitary time in his 16-hour day. He uses it to meet a deadline. He has a sermon to write by noon - one of three sermons he'll preach this day, along with five prayers.

LAMPTEY: As a good Muslim, I just have to call him back a little bit.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: A few minutes after 12, Lamptey is pacing the floor - his voice quiet, then booming. He tells the 300 worshippers that if they follow the prophet's words, they must be model citizens and treat unbelievers with kindness.

LAMPTEY: If we could do this, (unintelligible) we could be virtual angels walking the face of the Earth.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: After the service, worshippers line up to get the imam's advice.

LAMPTEY: We want them to read the Koran.

LAMPTEY: Yeah. I learned how to read the Koran.

LAMPTEY: I see. In fact, we have a Koran school on Saturdays here.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Lamptey will spend the better part of five hours counseling some of the 1,000 members of this mosque. Around 3 o'clock, he climbs the stairs to his office for even more counseling.

A young man greets him.

LAMPTEY: As-salaamu Alaikum.

ALI FEROZ: Wa alikum salaam.

LAMPTEY: How are you, brother?

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Ali Feroz has come for advice. He's a graduate student with a young family. The Koran forbids debt, but Feroz is not convinced that the Islamic banks that give no-interest loans are theologically legitimate.

FEROZ: It's like it's given the name of Islamic banking, but they do the same thing as regular financial institutions, do you know what I mean?

BRADLEY HAGERTY: The imam leans forward. He loves using the compass of Islam to negotiate this modern, worldly, capitalist country called the United States.

LAMPTEY: Look, in Islam, if the person comes on the day of judgment and Allah asks...

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Soon we're shooed out. Feroz wants some personal advice.

When Lamptey emerges around four, he has his car keys in hand. He's headed home, which he bought thanks to a no-interest loan with an Islamic bank. He's expected for a quick meal with his family.


BRADLEY HAGERTY: Nine-month-old Jalilah has just taken a spill. Lamptey scoops her up as his wife sets down a feast of cheese and crackers and chicken salad on the kitchen table.

LAMPTEY: This is my first meal of the day.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: It's 4:30 in the afternoon.

LAMPTEY: This is what happens, actually. Sometimes you get so busy, you don't feel like eating. Always my wife advises me not to do that. She tells me to eat on time. I've yet to listen.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: His wife, Jerusha, was raised in Connecticut. A nominal Christian, she converted to Islam after college. She has just started a Ph.D. program at Georgetown University. Sheikh Lamptey takes care of their infant when she's in class. She says she knew what she was getting into when she married an imam.

JERUSHA: I see him a lot. I just don't have those kinds of expectations that every day at six, he'll be here at the table.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: And now, the imam is bolting from the table. He realizes he's made two appointments for 6 p.m. back at the mosque. The first woman, who works at the county jail, arrives and sits down quietly on the couch. She needs money for rent. He calls the mosque's financial officer.

LAMPTEY: You know, I have somebody's money here, liquid cash, and I have - it's more than hundred dollars. (Unintelligible). Wa alikum salaam, sister, how are you?

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Another woman calls Lamptey for marriage counseling. Her husband has up and left the state and she wants Lamptey to talk him home.

LAMPTEY: He's not answering?

Unidentified Woman #2: No.

LAMPTEY: So what do you think we should do?

Woman #2: No. Are you on the phone with somebody now?

LAMPTEY: Yes. I'm on the phone with somebody.

LAMPTEY: Okay. I will just call you back in 10 minutes or so.

LAMPTEY: Good. That'll be great. That'll be great.

Woman #2: Okay. (Unintelligible).

LAMPTEY: Wa alikum salaam, (unintelligible). I'll call you back, Michele(ph). Good. How about next time? I'm so sorry.


LAMPTEY: I don't know if I can give a hundred dollars here, liquid cash, if that's right or wrong...

BRADLEY HAGERTY: This moment captures his day: standing in the middle of his office, a phone to each ear, negotiating problems of the checkbook and the heart.

LAMPTEY: Problem solved. I'll give you his telephone number so you'll call him tomorrow at 9 a.m.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: The first woman leaves. Lamptey scheduled the time to talk to the wandering husband and slumps down in his leather chair. He shows me a log of his appointments - with parents worried about their children, couples whose marriages are in distress, sick relatives, people broke or lonely or feeling at sea in an unfamiliar land. Every day has a list of people to be squeezed in between the five daily prayers.

LAMPTEY: And sometimes, by the end of the day, the fatigue in which you find yourself is bigger than running 40 miles.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: So why do you do it?

LAMPTEY: I tie people within marriages that make them very happy the rest of their lives. I negotiate settlements between people. I sit down with people one on one, personal, deep issues where they can't speak to anyone. They have the trust that when they speak to me, they speak into God.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: An hour later, at 7:30, the day's final conversation with God begins.

LAMPTEY: (Singing) (Arabic spoken).

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Sheikh Lamptey calls the faithful and several dozen arrive. They pray, and then the imam preaches another hour-long sermon. It's 9:30 at night now, but he drops to his knees and prays silently for 10, 15 minutes. It is, he says, the best time of the day to pray. Except, of course, for the morning prayer, which will begin at 5:45 tomorrow morning.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: You can meet other young clergy profile in our series at npr.org.

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