This week Jonathan, Craig and I visited Masjid Attaqwa in Memphis and interviewed the Imam, Baba Deme after Friday prayers. The masjid is predominately attended by Muslims from West African countries like Senegal and Mauritania. During our conversation, the Imam, who is a Senegalese American, spoke of his appreciation of our project and the need for Muslims and non-Muslims to understand each other in the United States. He said relations between Muslims and non-Muslims were very good in Memphis.
Following our talk the imam and his associates treated us to a delicious West African meal. There were two entrees served with rice; an okra dish and a beef dish with a peanut sauce. The Imam and his associates including the elder Bou Bou Diallo sat around the table and ate with their hands, encouraging us to do so. I decided to put down my fork and fully engage, drawing heaps of laughter from the group as more and more rice and sauce was heaped on my plate.
After lunch the general secretary of the mosque, Abou Falle, presented us with kola nuts, and announced that it was a tradition in West Africa to give them to honored guests. The Imam showed me how to crack it open and I bit into the bitter nut as the group watched intently. After a brief facial contortion I recovered, but not before some more laughs were had. We thanked the group for the nuts and departed.
I had come to Memphis with so many fond memories of Southern hospility encountered in previous stops through the south. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy West African hospitality as well.